Rating/Warnings PG-13 for language, sexual themes, angst
Word Count 6300+
Summary Darren’s apartment building floods, and he’s gotta camp out somewhere. Most of two weeks in nights and days; a sleepwalker and his good friend the plumber. Darren’s POV, set in early April 2011.
Notes I said back in December that I wouldn’t write any more in the ‘verse of Shades of Grey and Pink and Black, but I guess I lied—they are the assumed canon for this fic, though this has a helluva lot more happy. I’d suggest reading those first. This fic is for colfer, who wanted sleepwalking and friendship fic and has patiently waited... seven weeks? for me to finish this and has done some major cheerleading, and, cutely enough, met me for coffee on Valentine’s Day. Some themes in this fic were inspired by the essay Infinite Relationships, and I encourage you all to read it. Title comes from the counterspell for Lumos as well as the Latin word for ‘night.’ Betaed by planetariium and aimmyarrowshigh. No spoilers.
Disclaimer I don’t own Chris or Darren, sadly, but they might own me. I also don’t own several varieties of Kellogg’s breakfast cereals, The Princess Diaries, The Matrix, Glee, VOX amplifiers, Super Mario Bros, or Enrique Iglesias.
Some jackoff in the apartment down the hall from mine flooded our part of the building and some of the floor below, and I’m fucking homeless until it gets fixed.
By some miracle my guitars are all fine in their cases, which is the first thing I checked when I arrived back from set past midnight and splashed through the hallway to my door. The four VOX amplifier stacks I spent a fortune on over the summer have been sitting heavy on the carpeting, and I want to cry. I can hear Jan, my landlady, down the hall spewing curses into a cell phone, and I’m glad I don’t much care about any of this furniture.
I pack a duffel with the essentials and my laptop. Everything else important to me I stack in the (mercifully dry) bedroom closet or on tables, put loose papers in the file cabinet, unplug anything running to the walls, and tuck my books into plastic bags. I pull on my leather jacket, grab my most prized acoustic, and dial Chris’ number as I take the stairs down five flights.
“Hey man, can I crash at your place tonight?” I ask when he picks up. “My apartment went a bit—under the sea. I can get a hotel or something later, but it’s kind of late...”
There are a few seconds of apprehension in Chris’ tone before he tells me to come right over, to not be silly about any hotel, he’ll pull out the futon.
I explain the situation fully upon my arrival, and help him spread sheets over the fold-out mattress in his living room before he yawns and tells me that there’s a coffeemaker under the sink if I want it.
Early the next morning, my manager hires someone to put everything in storage, which is a relief, but I’m still antsy during rehearsals, checking my phone every few minutes for more information (which doesn’t come) from the insurance company.
“Why do you even care about the place?” Chris asks softly, his hand on my shoulder as I’m freaking my shit out. “I mean, no offense, Darren, but your little box just became a little more of a piece of crap than it already was. Time to upgrade and get a nice fridge... You can afford it now, y’know.”
Maybe he’s right, but I’ll take it up with Jan on a different day... though I will swing back by on the way to Chris’ that evening, and grab the cash I have hidden behind the molding that’s above the bathroom cabinet.
On the second night, Chris stumbles out of his bedroom while I’m on the futon wearing headphones. He sits down on the end of the folded-out mattress, and I look up at him, pulling the headphones down around my neck. “Can’t sleep?”
He ignores my question entirely. “Would you rather I made Rice Krispy Treats, or Muddy Buddies?”
“The hell are Muddy Buddies?”
“Best thing ever. Chex and peanut butter and chocolate and powdered sugar.”
Damn. “That sounds dangerous.”
Chris smiles wistfully and stands in the dim light, heading to the small kitchen and very narrowly missing a chair. He opens a cupboard and takes out a box of Rice Chex, and by the time I join him in the kitchen and slide onto a barstool across from him, Chris has also procured a jar of peanut butter, regular butter, cane sugar, and a bag of peanuts.
“Where’s the chocolate?”
He points to the peanuts, and I raise my eyebrows. The bag is brand new, so he reaches toward the knife block and slides out the largest one.
“Whoa! Scissors, man. What—” He’s inspecting the blade as I skirt around the countertop and touch his arm. “Chris.” To my relief, he hums. “Give me the knife, Chris. You need to go back to bed.”
“Huh-uh.” His grip tightens on the handle. “Hungry.”
“Why don’t you let me help you, then, okay?”
Nodding, he hands over the knife, and I put it back in the block without him noticing.
I grunt into the pillow, cringing against the daylight.
“What are you doing in my bed?” Chris asks quietly.
“Huh?” I ask, turning over to face him. “Oh. You were up trying to cook last night. I didn’t want you getting up again.”
“Sleepwalking. You thought the peanuts were chocolate.”
Chris gasps, cringing, his fist pressing to his mouth. “Oh, god, I’m sorry.”
“It’s cool, but you started handling the cutlery and it scared me.” He’s covering his eyes now, and I laugh, sitting up. “Don’t worry about it.”
Chris sighs and scratches his head. “Do we have to work today?”
“You do. I have to get my soggy shit sorted out.” Yawning, I scratch my leg through my sweatpants and get up, padding across the room. “Have a good day, dear.”
On the third night, Chris’ face is lit by his laptop screen in the dim kitchen while I sit adjacent from him at the table, tuning my guitar slowly by ear.
“I was thinking about doing Hero by Enrique Iglesias at the show at the Troubadour on Saturday,” I tell him, and he looks up, eyebrows raised.
“Oh, were you not dreamy enough, Darren?”
I match him with a look, and Chris gestures with his hand as if to say, let’s hear it, then. He smirks as I begin the opening notes, but his forehead meets the table, his shoulders shaking with laughter as I whisper to him, “Let me be your hero.”
The rest of the song he watches with his chin propped on one hand, and by the end he’s smiling softly, his eyes on my fingers as they move subtly across the strings.
“That was great, Darren,” he says finally. “Make the panties drop.”
I scoff, shaking my head, but he nods, shutting the screen of his Mac and standing with a wink. “You’re lucky I have an ounce of self-control. G’night.” He pats me on the head as he leaves the kitchen with a tall glass of water.
Chris and I drive back from Pasadena in the carpool lane and sing along to KROQ with the windows down. He wears my sunglasses because his own fell between the seats and his hands drum on the steering wheel.
The Super Mario Bros battle that had gone down in the trailers with the rest of the Warblers that afternoon had been especially insult-based, and the image of Chris sitting cross-legged on the floor with his shirt halfway open and pressing buttons on the Wii controller like Morse code is still fresh in my mind.
“Did you mean what you said about me looking like Mario?” I ask, turning down the volume so we don’t have to hear the commercials.
Chris opens his hands as if there’s no definitive answer. “Well, you’re not as dumpy as him, but get a mustache, and some Italian blood, and sure.”
“You do realize that by default that makes you Luigi, right?” I ask, scrunching my face up for effect. “Beanpole, younger, plumber, et cetera?”
“You got a problem with plumbers, Darren?” he deadpans, taking his eyes off the road to frown at me.
I stare back at him until he cracks up and turns the blinker on.
On the fourth night, Chris falls asleep next to me on the futon, where we had been sprawled on our stomachs with the newest script. He’d been armed with a green highlighter, and I take it from his curled fingers, capping it and closing the script, and set both on the floor at the foot of the mattress.
He looks about twelve in his sleep, his temple resting on his forearms—the stress and the pressure and the pain is melted off of him, and he’s beautiful in a different way than usual. I smile as I watch him, my fingers itching to adjust his hair, but I don’t.
When I emerge from Chris’ bathroom after a shower and with my teeth brushed, he’s still lying there, curled on his side, and I hardly have the heart to wake him, but I know he won’t want to sleep in his jeans.
I sit down beside him, and with my fingers kneading Chris’ shoulder, I say his name gently until he opens his eyes. “It’s late, superstar.”
He nods, dazed, rolls over until he’s on his feet, and throws me a glower when I chuckle at him, before smiling and shaking his head.
We’ve called ahead to the teriyaki place a few blocks over, and the two of us enter the restaurant and walk up to the counter to pay for our takeout chicken and yakisoba lunch. I give the girl at the counter my first name, and hand over my debit card as she brings out the tied plastic bag with our food.
Chris elbows me in thanks, and I just smile and sign the receipt, my mouth watering at the smells.
“Uh, Chris?” a small voice asks, and in the corner of my eye, Chris turns. “H-h-hi.”
A sandy-haired boy of probably thirteen has approached us, and when he notices me standing there as well, his eyes go even wider, and dart back to Chris. “I, uh, I really love the show.”
A wide grin splits across Chris’ face, and he stoops slightly and asks the boy’s name, extending his hand to shake.
I lift our food off the counter, and can see the kid’s father watching from their table. I nod to the man before smiling back down at his kid.
“It’s so nice to meet you,” Chris says, as sincere as he could possibly be. “This is my friend Darren.”
I step forward, and Matthew shakes my hand as well. “You did Teenage Dream so much better than Katy.”
It takes everything in me to hold the smile instead of laughing right in his face. “I think they’re both good, man, but thank you.”
The boy smiles, turns back to Chris, and motions him closer to whisper in his ear. Chris leans in, listening, and then nods, wrapping Matthew in a hug that the boy grins through and returns wholeheartedly. He waves shyly as Chris releases him and straightens up, before running back to his father.
“What’d he say?” I ask.
“It’s a secret.” He takes the food from me, flashing Matthew a thumbs-up on our way out.
On the fifth night, he wakes me a little after four in the morning, gripping my shoulder and one of my hands in the dark.
“Darren, there’s somebody talking in my room. Arguing.”
I get up, of course, and, half-asleep, stub my toe en route to his doorway.
Reaching over to flip on the light switch, I look around his bedroom. There’s nothing in there except his furniture and books and articles of clothing and photographs. The television’s on, Adult Swim, its light bouncing off the painted walls, and I sigh, finding the remote and turning it off.
“They’re gone now, Chris,” I call softly into the next room, rubbing my eyes.
“What did you do?” He appears in the doorway, and I turn to face him.
“Sent them away in my rocketship.”
Smiling, Chris wraps his arms around my neck, and I chuckle as I hug him back.
“Thank you,” he whispers, and I nod against his neck, taking his hand to guide him back to bed.
Pulling the sheets back, I fold Chris down onto his bed. “Sweet dweams,” I say in a baby voice, and he grins rather uncharacteristically back at me. Tucking the covers back around him, I sit down on the edge of the bed and lean over him. “You gonna be okay?”
He nods, snuggling into his pillow, and I ruffle his hair gently.
“You’re fuckin’ adorable.”
The insurance company is prepared to replace my amplifiers and not much else, since the building’s plan is separate and is supposed to be covering the property damage, which has been estimated and Jan is pulling her hair out. She didn’t expect people to come in and do quality control inspections on the whole structure—apparently there exists some other problem with fire code violations.
And yeah, fuck you, I was fairly dirt-poor by L.A. standards before this, so I live in a shithole, the dryer and the fridge don’t work, whoever-down-the-hall broke his toilet and flushed it all over my floor or something, and basically, worse has come to worst—I need a new casa.
“Jan, this is Darren from 5R, I’m moving out. Sorry that this is a voicemail, but I need a more stable living space. Good luck with everything, and thank you again for the cookies last year, those were really nice. Call me back, please, so we can talk about my rent and stuff.”
Chris is making a face as I hang up. “Jeez, Darren. You need to learn how to properly bitch.”
“Yeah, well, Jan’s not a bitch, just irresponsible. She’s a landlady in L.A., I think that deserves some props.”
He snickers, and I turn back to my laptop, looking at apartments.
“So, we’ve kinda talked about this before but... you sleepwalk.” I don’t know why I’m bringing it up now, on the sixth night. Reaching between us on the futon, I grab another handful from the bowl of Muddy Buddies that Chris had succeeded in consciously making.
“Doctors will tell you it’s stress and lack of sleep, but my mom likes to joke that there’s demon spawn in my pancreas, sending me to do its bidding.” He chuckles and scrapes some chocolate off his thumb with his teeth. “Sometimes I’ll talk too loudly and wake myself up.”
“How often d’you do all this?”
“Probably three times a week. Oh, and I woke up screaming once when Amber was here,” Chris says, pushing up the sleeves of his sweatshirt. “She hasn’t slept over since.”
“What, do you have nightmares?” I ask, eyebrows raised.
“Sometimes. I don’t really ever remember sleepwalking though, except vaguely if I’m woken up while I’m doing it.” He snorts then. “Scares the hell out of me. I used to make myself a lot of cereal too when I was a kid—sleepeating.”
I fight back a laugh; he still does eat a lot of cereal, just more creatively.
“So yeah, just, please, I know I’ve said this before, but if you catch me walking around, just take me back to bed.”
Chris looks up from his Blackberry as I take a seat next to him with a massive bowl of Reese’s Puffs. I can feel his side-eyes, and as I pile a heaping spoonful into my mouth and chew it loudly, he rolls his eyes as well.
It’s five more bites and three chucklings to myself later when Chris finally opens his mouth.
“You know you’ve worn that same t-shirt three times this week?”
“I guess I have,” I say, looking down at myself, and tug at the blue cotton with my fingers before picking up the spoon once more. Most of my days are spent in costume, so I don’t have the time to dirty up clothes unless I’m working out.
I’m bringing another bite to my lips when he speaks again. “There’s a washer-dryer in the basement.” His eyebrows rise like I’m missing a huge hint, and I smile at him, chewing.
“Sure, Chris,” I sigh, and bring the bowl of now-brown milk to my lips to drink. I stand and rinse the bowl out in the kitchen sink, before pulling the shirt over my head in one movement. “I’ll do a dark wash. Got anything?”
As he turns red, I swat at him with the fabric, leave it on the table beside him and saunter off towards the bathroom hamper in what I know he’ll see as retribution.
Julie Andrews’ royalty voice is unmistakable. “And so, you wave to them and acknowledge them gracefully—no, no, not quite so big, because of course it’s very, very exhausting after a while.”
He would be watching The Princess Diaries. It’s the seventh night and I put down my bag by the door before joining Chris on the couch.
“Waving, even more gently, you sort of say, ‘thank you for being here today.’”
Chris’ eyes shift over to mine, a playful smirk on his face, and he raises one hand in anticipation as, onscreen, chauffer Joe apologizes and he gets up from his seat so that he may pick up the Prime Minister. I raise my hand as well, and the two of us wave properly in sync with Princess Mia and her grandmother, letting our hands just sort of roll in an oval. “Thaaaank you for being here today.”
Chris laughs softly, and I jab at his kidney with my finger in greeting, making him yelp and bat my hand away.
“How many times have you seen this movie?”
The nostalgia seems to bleed from him as he sighs. “I’ll never tell.”
“The proceeds from this show are going towards my new living quarters, you guys. My apartment building flooded and I have been without a place to call my own.”
You can stay with me, Darren! someone in the crowd yells, of course. I walked into that one.
I wipe the sweat off my forehead, laughing, and shake my head, squinting against the spotlight. “I’ve had other accommodations, but thank you for the offer.” Mentioning the specifics would cause a shitstorm—I smile to myself, and look down at the smeared setlist on my hand. Hero.
Slipping the leather guitar strap out from over my head, I hand my Stratocaster to the sound tech and take my acoustic from him. “My friend Chris basically told me that this next song tries too hard, but I think it’s sweet. I equate it to like, Randy Newman, on my sentimental scale, and that can only be a good thing, right?”
Ryan Murphy had approached me a couple of days previous, asking why I didn’t tell him I was homeless, that Fox would have happily paid for a hotel room until I got things sorted out.
I’d shrugged and told him I didn’t even think about it, and that I wouldn’t have wanted to assume anyway—he looked at me like I was an adorable n00b, and if my Blaine hair hadn’t been in at the time, he probably would have ruffled it.
Chris and I are too exhausted on the eighth night to do anything but lie around on his bed and watch bad TV. After an hour I’m slumped back against his ribs with one of his arms across my chest, halfway-watching whatever he’s turned on.
I give up hope when the fingers of his other hand begin stroking through my hair—my eyes slip closed and when my neck starts hurting from the position, I turn to curl around him. Chris mutes the TV, scoots down from where he was propped against the headboard, and lets me.
Chris doesn’t smell like anything; there are four colognes in his bathroom that he’s probably gotten for free at various events, but I’ve never smelled any on him. Instead he smells like the body wash that I borrowed from his shower and the light musk of a boy at the end of his day.
His soft laugh vibrates through his shoulder and against my ear as he continues to play with the hair at the back of my neck, and I hum questioningly at him, itching his chest with one finger.
“Oh, you just feel like a dog,” he snickers. “Like you should start kicking when I get to the right spot.”
Chris steps out of the trailer’s bathroom in his relatively simple, semi-casual Kurt-wear for the day: white skinny jeans under a maroon boatneck sweater. He picks some lint off the jeans, and looks over at me. “So, what do you think?”
I nod to him appreciatively, the corners of my mouth curling up, and he smiles back, closing the space between us to straighten my Dalton jacket and tie, his bare collarbones right smack in my line of vision.
“You want Blaine’s opinion, or mine?” I ask as he tightens the Half Windsor knot against my throat before letting it out a little.
“Surprise me,” he says with a smirk.
Well, I am in costume. “Your skin’s beautiful, sir, and I will covet it long into the night, though only in my mind for your body is one to be preserved and cher—”
Chris laughs, smacking my chest as he buttons my jacket. “You’re so full of shit, Mr. Anderson.”
I let my hands wrap around his wrists until he meets my eyes. “It’s true, y’know. You’ve got great skin.”
“It’s not true, but thank you, Darren.”
It’s almost two in the morning on the ninth night (bear with me), and my eyelids are heavy as I slump in my Darren chair. Luke’s icing his twisted ankle in the corner and the incident, which also managed to gouge Telly in the eye, has thrown off the dance rehearsal schedule, and everyone’s scrambling to catch up—there are tapestry malfunctions, we’ve got to get shit done, filming is up against a wall, and we’re all still here.
Chris scratches his short fingernails against the knee of my jeans, and I grumble softly, leaning in to rest my forehead against his shoulder. I can hear him chewing.
“Wanna go home, n’ go to bed,” I whine, though I figure it’s warranted.
“I hear ya, Dare,” he whispers to me, and swallows, resting his hand against my neck. “Soon.”
He lays a cookie on my thigh with his other hand, and I chuckle down at it—white chocolate chip. “What’s this, perky medicine?”
“It does the job for me,” he says as he presses a soft kiss into my hair.
I pull away from him slowly, and pick up the cookie, brushing the crumbs off my leg.
“I promise, by the time you’re done eating it, you’ll start feeling better,” he says with a wry smile.
“Oh my god, stop with the Mr. Anderson already,” I laugh around the first bite, one hand over my mouth.
“Oh my god, stop fucking flirting,” Luke says to the ceiling from across the room. “I’m in enough pain.”
Chris keeps a running to-do list on his stainless steel fridge, made up of Post-Its written on in blue ink.
Buy a new Blackberry charger and get Jenna a birthday present (25 on the 28th) I understand, but then there’s coyly return Russell Brand’s handkerchief and tell Darren to stop leaving the milk out. It was one time!
I add #whiteboyproblems just to fuck with him, and when he sees it, he retaliates by shoving my car keys down the front of his pants.
He immediately regrets it, though. (Ouch.)
Chris crawls into bed with me on the tenth night, his cold toes brushing up against the bottoms of my feet and waking me up a little more than his solid presence behind me had, or the hand splayed across my bare chest.
When his lips press against the top of my spine, though, I freeze, and turn slowly onto my back. “Chris... what are you...”
He hums in response, leaning down and attaching his mouth to my collarbone.
“Are you sleepwalking?” I whisper near his ear, one of my hands curling over the back of his neck and the collar of his t-shirt.
Sniggering against my skin, Chris runs his tongue up my throat, and I shiver as cool air hits the stripe of his saliva. I debate waking him up, but that would be a hell of a thing to explain in addition to disorienting him. Kisses start right below my jaw, nipping, and move up towards my lips. He’s good at it, I’ll give him that—but that’s not the point, regardless of whether he’ll remember this.
“Wait a second, Chris.” How do I get him back in bed without freaking him out or waking him up?
He pauses, propping himself on an elbow, and I press my hand over his forehead before stroking his hair out of his eyes—half-open and unfocused.
“Who am I?”
He scoffs, nuzzling into my palm and smiling. “Who do you think, Darren?”
I accept his brief kiss then, before placing my hand firmly on his chest. “You have to go back to your own bed, Luigi.”
Chris pouts and smiles. “Oh, c’mon, Mario.”
I shake my head at him. “Sorry, buddy. I love you, but we can’t do this.”
I press my lips to his forehead, and he sighs, tucking it into my neck and sinking the rest of his upper body over my chest. My fingers stroke over his back idly, and I relax under his warm weight, staring up at the ceiling.
Theatre kids are by nature intimate people. I never felt devoid of human contact within my circle of friends. Cuddle parties were a biweekly occurrence. No one gave it a second thought; we knew each other well enough. Gender wasn’t an issue unless you made it into one, and there wasn’t sex involved at all, unless you wanted there to be.
It’s a pity that something as simple as holding hands is immediately seen as romantic to the general public—I’ve probably fucked two-thirds of Starkid by that standard.
But I can tell that Chris doesn’t view real intimacy, at least not with men, that way, as something that can be so easily platonic. And maybe that’s because he didn’t receive any as a teen, that no one was around to touch him in that way—not with any intention, but for grounding, comfort, presence—no matter how much he may have craved it.
So when Chris opens his eyes a few minutes later, and his lashes flutter against my neck, his whole body tenses up, and I realize I haven’t put him back to bed yet.
“It’s okay,” I say immediately, rubbing his forearm where it rests over my ribs. “Relax, Chris. I’ve got you.”
He’s silent for a few moments, breathing shallowly until I dip my fingers in his hair again.
“That just happened, didn’t it?” he says carefully, tucking his arm to his own chest. “What I dreamt.”
I nod against his forehead.
“Sorry. Oh my god. Shit.” He sits up, pushing my hands away, and lets his eyes drift down my body momentarily before they dart to the bedspread. “I should go back to my own room. This is inappropriate.”
“Hey,” I say, reaching my hand up to squeeze his shoulder and making him look at me. “I’ll put a shirt on, you can sleep here if you want. Not everything has to be sexual.”
He scoffs. “And somehow my subconscious climbing into your bed and attempting a hickey wasn't sexual?”
I manage a small smile, but Chris shakes his head as he untangles himself from the sheets and scoots off the end of the mattress. “G’night, Darren.”
Chris is weird the next day, which doesn’t surprise me, but it’s the opposite of what I want. He’s embarrassed, and feels guilty, I can tell, and he avoids my eyes all morning. We aren’t working, which is probably a good thing, but it’s almost one in the afternoon and he’s holed himself up in his room with The United States of Tara.
He does answer his door when I knock on it, though, and when he does look at me, his eyes are red-rimmed and threateningly wet. He presses his forehead against the doorjamb, and I sigh, reaching my fingers out to touch his wrist.
When I say his name, he chokes a little bit, and I forcibly pull him into the hall and wrap my arms around his neck.
“Please don’t worry about this,” I tell him softly, as he clutches at the back of my t-shirt, sniffing over my shoulder.
“Of course I’m going to. It’s all fucked now,” he says, his voice breaking. “I can’t believe I—”
Stepping back, I grip his biceps tightly—“Stop it.”—before letting my hands trail down his arms. “Can I tell you something? You’re a good kisser.”
He laughs softly, blushing and wiping his eyes. “Shut up.”
“I don’t care if you believe me. It’s true. I’ve told you before, I’d be lucky to have you.”
Chris shakes his head, trying in vain to push me away, but I grab his arms again.
“I love the shit out of you, okay? You haven’t fucked anything up.”
“Aside from practically raping you,” he counters, his voice caught between defeated and grating.
“No, Chris. Look at me, I’m too touchy-feely for my own good—I know this, it’s gotten me in trouble before. I could probably lead Jane Lynch on without realizing it.”
“You don’t lead me on,” he says quietly.
“I don’t discourage you, which is the point here.” I sigh, letting go of him. “And I’m not going to judge you based on something you did while you were asleep.”
We’re invited out to dinner with Dianna, Amber and Jenna on the eleventh night, and Chris accepts mainly as an excuse to get out of the apartment.
The car ride to the restaurant is more tense than I would have hoped, and it includes a lot of sighing until finally Chris jams his finger onto the CD button of the car stereo, and GaGa’s Just Dance blares at an alarming volume.
Both of our hands jump to turn it down, but he gets there first, and I let mine drop.
Dianna eyes me strangely after we sit down at their booth, and frowns at Chris, who shakes his head. They had left an area open for us on one end of the U-shaped seats, because of course, it was expected that we would sit together.
After we settle in with them and the waitress brings over our beverages, Chris drains his water quicker than I would have thought possible, or maybe there’s too much ice—I plunk my untouched glass down in front of him and reach again for the beer I’ve ordered. The conversation shifts from Ryan’s brand of office politics to the tattoo Jenna wants next before he finally sips from it.
Not surprisingly, halfway through our entrees Chris has to get up and use the men’s room.
The girls jump on me once he’s out of earshot and I’ve sat back down from letting him out of our end of the booth—why the hell is Chris so on edge, what did you do?—but I don’t tell them any of the details, no form of context. It’s not mine to tell.
I’ve forgotten that I’m talking to three of his mothers, though, and they’re going to need a better answer, and my minimizing of anything that bothers him will only serve to make me look bad.
Chris’ fingers settle on my shoulder as I’m trying to figure out what to say, and I look up to see him smile slightly. I stand to let him back in, and when I take my seat beside him again, he seems to be breathing a little easier. He nods as I raise my eyebrows at him, and I squeeze his knee gently under the table before finishing my beer.
I watch him from the apartment doorway; he sits at the table, arms crossed, with his eyes fixed on the bubbles rising in the bottle of Diet Coke he’s unsealed. It would be pointless to ask if he’s alright. When he looks up, I push off the wall and cross the room to sit beside him, tucking my fingers into the crook of his nearest arm and squeezing.
“Please don’t put on a mask with me, Chris. Talk to me.”
He opens his mouth to deny it, but then he stops, and sighs. “I’m not like you, Darren.”
I won’t argue if it means he’ll continue, so I just nod. “Okay.”
“I’m so used to hiding everything from guys. So used to being invisible. I—” he breathes out heavily. “I got comfortable with you, and look what happened.” One of his hands lifts to his brow, scrubbing over it.
“Chris, you were asleep.”
“Yeah, but I would’ve wanted it regardless. I try so hard to not just... fall in love with you.” He laughs at that last part, shaking his head. “You are too handsy but that’s just who you are. And I thought I could deal with it, I thought I could handle being around you so much...”
The but in that sentence hangs unsaid in the air.
I rest my hands in my own lap. “What are we talking about here?”
He presses his lips together tightly, and turns to meet my eyes. “Being intimate with you scares me, because I know that, for you, it means something else.” When Chris’ eyes start to tear up, though, he looks away.
Resting my forehead against his shoulder, I let my eyes close. “I’m so sorry, Chris.”
“Yeah, well,” he sniffs, and doesn’t finish that sentence either.
“What do you need me to do?” I ask, my voice hollow.
“I don’t think there’s anything you can do.”
I look up at Chris as he tucks his chin, staring into his lap, and I lay my hand on his shoulder, kneading the muscles there. “I don’t know if this is what you want to hear, and maybe it sounds terrible, but it’s not you, it’s your dick. I’d have you in a heartbeat, Luigi—I’m sorry I can’t give you this.”
Chris nods. “Thank god you’re not one for a pity fuck.” He laughs out of his nose, and I press my forehead against his temple, rubbing his back before getting up.
My manager helps me finalize things for the loft-style apartment I’ve decided on, the one I liked best when I took a few tours earlier in the week—brick, not seedy and not ritzy, remarkably right-in-the-middle-of-things in terms of location as well as my rather inflated budget.
“You know my leaving has nothing to do with you, right?” I ask him on the twelfth night, the last night, as I’m collecting my clothes and packing up everything I won’t use tomorrow.
Chris shrugs his shoulders. “Of course. This was always a temporary thing.”
“I’m fucking serious, don’t feel like I’m running out on you.”
He looks up properly, and sighs with a small smile. “I’ve got it, Darren.”
“Mmmkay. Oh, and a package came while you were in the shower,” I say, moving the two strides to the kitchen counter where I’d left the mail and holding the padded envelope out to him.
He frowns down at the shipping label after taking it from me, and tears open the seal in a couple of sharp tugs. “The hell is... oh my god.” Pulling out the contents, Chris hides his face behind Lego Harry Potter, Years 1-4 for the Wii, and cocks his head to the side. “I don’t remember ordering this.”
I snigger at him, zipping up my duffel. “Sleep-shopping again?”
“Don’t even get me started.” Chris sighs, drawing the game away from his face to read the back cover and work a fingernail under the security sticker. “Wanna play it?”
“Does Neville Schlongbottom forget shit all the time?”
The smile reaches his eyes at that remark.
“Y’want eggs and toast?” I call across the apartment as I stand in front of the open refrigerator.
Chris grunts some form of approval from his room, and I grin, pulling out the eggs, milk, cheese, and a loaf of bread. I whisk the animal products together in a bowl and pour them into a buttered pan on the stove, and Chris walks in, rubbing his eyes, as I punch the bread down into the toaster.
“You look beat,” I tell him, as he leans his elbows on the counter.
Chris sighs. “Couldn’t sleep.” He shuffles over to a cabinet, opening it and grabbing the pepper grinder, and reaches around me to twist it liberally over the eggs. I take the spatula when he’s finished, pushing the yellowy layers of cooked and uncooked around.
When they’re done, I split the eggs onto two plates and Chris blearily butters the toast. We carry the food to the table, and I grab two forks, setting them between us. Chris pours himself some juice, and without bothering to ask, pours some coffee for me.
We don’t have to speak as we eat, but there is something to say.
“So, I’m moving into my new apartment today,” I mutter around my mouthful of bread.
Chris nods, picking at the eggs.
“To tell you the truth, I’m kind of sad to leave your futon. I’ll miss it.”
He knows exactly what I meant by that. “You’ll see me all the time anyway, Darren.”
On the thirteenth night—or is this a new first?—I call him before I fall asleep in a different bed.
“Hey,” he answers, muffled, and I can hear him spit into the sink, and then turn the water on—probably rinsing out his toothbrush. “You’re on speaker. How do you like your new place?”
“Well, I don’t think it has an adorable countertenor singing Come What May in the shower every morning, but I actually do like the bed.”
Chris chuckles softly. “I’m sure you do.”
“You’ll have to come see this after I get all my shit organized. There’s still boxes everywhere.”
“Will do. And you forgot your electric razor in my bathroom,” he adds before gargling.
“Oh, thanks. I think I might have left a shoe as well?” I ask, hopeful, scratching the back of my head.
The sink runs again on his end. “Yeah, I found that earlier. I’ll bring it in for you. And you still have my spare key.”
I sigh in relief. “Remind me tomorrow... And, you know, maybe you really shouldn’t be living by yourself, Chris.”
He pauses before he responds to that. “What do you have in mind?”
I shake my head, even though he can’t see me. “I dunno.”
“Good night, Darren,” he says, playful impatience in his voice, and I smile.
“Stay in bed, Chris.”