It was some kind of weird coincidence that we'd ended up at the same bar, considering we'd left the hotel an hour apart, and by all reports in opposite directions.
I almost didn't believe my eyes when I lifted my head and saw him at the opposite end of the bar, nursing a beer and staring longingly at the cigarette machine. It was easy to believe they were deceiving me, after polishing off what had to have been half a bottle of vodka. I would have been cut off three drinks ago if I hadn't been who I was.
I turned away from him, turned my back to that side of the room and stared at an empty stool, my eyes idly tracing the patterns in the wood grain. I'd come here to be alone, to drink myself into oblivion, not to see the guys and have to get all touchy feely and talk about my feelings the way they'd want me to. I'd been through that shit with them before. It hadn't worked then, and I doubted it would work now.
I was surprised when minutes went by and there was no tap on my shoulder, no soft, understanding voice behind me, no one pulling my half-empty glass out of my hand. Only the soft drone of top 40 music in the background, the rumble of conversation and laughter nearby, the clink of glasses as the bartender cleaned them. I was still alone.
I turned my head curiously. He still sat there, not even looking towards me, drinking a second beer. Or a fourth. Or a tenth. I had no way of knowing how many he'd downed before I'd seen him, or even if this had been his first stop. Giving the situation a few minutes of thought, enough for my alcohol-soaked brain to kick in and process the information, I realized he looked like he wanted to be bothered about as much as I did.
Which, perversely, made me want to sidle up to him, sit on the empty stool next to him and ask him what was making him so down.
In the end neither one of us ambushed the other. Joey looked up suddenly as I was still staring at him and gave me a long, hard look, then a nod of acknowledgment. He put his beer down on the counter and patted the stool next to him. An invitation to talk, or not, whatever I chose.
I stared at my drink for a moment as though the answer to my dilemma could be answered in the tiny bubbles that bounced past the ice cubes and floated to the surface. Finally I picked it up and downed it, then dropped a few bucks next to the empty glass and walked over to the stool that Joey offered. I slid onto it more smoothly than I imagined I could, and rested my arms on the counter.
"I hear you caught Brit sleeping around," he said, sipping his beer and looking straight ahead, staring into his own image reflected back at him in the mirrored glass.
"Yeah," I said flatly, wishing I still had the drink, but knowing that if I had another I was going to be violently ill. Also knowing that being violently ill was better than this deep sense of betrayal I was carrying around with me right now. I'd defended her for months, reminded everyone that gossip was rarely true, and now I find out that they were all right all along.
"That sucks. You didn't deserve that." His eyes were downcast now, staring at the ring of moisture his beer had left on the wooden surface.
"No, I didn't," I told him, my words crisp and unslurred. I silently begged him not to give me an I-told-you-so, a you're-better-than-her, or any other kind of statement of pity and superiority. My thoughts pleaded with him not to go into the big brother routine and try to give me unwanted advice or undeserved criticism.
Joey finished his beer and pushed the bottle away, and we sat in awkward silence while a old, peculiar dance mix of a Sinead O'Connor song played in the background.
"So what's your story?" I asked him finally. I tried not to look at him, either, when I spoke, but I couldn't help it. I needed to read his face as he heard his words, had to grasp the whole picture. "I thought you were having dinner with Mark tonight."
Joey opened a fist that he'd had clenched atop the bar and a slender gold chain slipped out, dangling from his index finger and swaying slightly back and forth. Justin recognized it as the one Joey'd given Mark not two months ago--they'd gone shopping for it together, the same time he'd picked up an engraved bracelet for Brit.
I nodded my understanding, tried to show Joey that no words were necessary to articulate the events of that evening, but when Joey turned towards me I could see raw, burning pain in his eyes. Pain that needed to be lessened, drained into whatever outlet was available.
"He couldn't take it," said Joey, his voice flat and emotionless despite his eyes. He glanced down at his watch and back up again. "He'll already be on the plane by now, heading back to Portland. On my dime, no less." He snorted. "Doesn't that just figure." Anger was started to creep in. I recognized it. I'd heard it in my own voice not so much earlier this evening.
"Let's get out of here," I said after a long moment of silence. Even in the state I was in, I knew that Joey talking about his boyfriend--his ex-boyfriend--in a public place such as this was just asking for trouble. And so was me talking openly about Brit, for that matter. I hadn't been thinking of that when I'd been muttering into my drink, a half dozen people within earshot.
"Yeah," he said, sliding off his stool onto the floor. He seemed sober, which was a shame. I wanted someone to be drunk with right now, to lie on our backs and stare at the stars and let our minds run dizzily off, away from everything that was bothering us. But I knew that wasn't what was going to happen tonight, not with his barely-masked agony, not with the fury I kept inside.
We walked together through the heavy wooden door of the bar and out onto the now rain-soaked street. I though stuff like that only happened in the movies, mysterious rain coming to wet down the world right when you were feeling at your lowest. I scuffed my runner against the dirty, grainy sidewalk, and looked from side to side.
"Where to?" I asked. The street was dark and empty; it was late and some of the bars were already closed. I wasn't even sure which way was back to our hotel. Had I known, I probably would have chosen the opposite direction. As it was, I stumbled to the curb and felt Joey's strong arm come around my waist to keep me from falling into traffic.
He hailed a cab and shoved me inside, asking the driver to take us to the nearest Super 8 and slamming the door behind him. The motion of the vehicle made me ill, but I managed to make it inside the motel room without incident, flopping down onto my back on the bed and closing my eyes to keep the room from spinning.
"We won't be interrupted here," he said, locking the door and closing the blinds. He lay down on the bed next to me, about an inch from touching, and sighed. "I don't want to see them either," he said. "I don't want Chris to talk about how good a relationship can be when you find the right person, and I don't want Lance to talk about how there are other things besides relationships that are fulfilling, and I really don't want JC telling me how casual flings are the way to go anyway."
"Maybe he's right," I mumbled as the world slowly turned around me. "Maybe I shouldn't trust. Maybe I should just fuck around, and everything else can just go to hell."
"No," said Joey, simply. He didn't even shake his head to punctuate it. "What do you have if you don't have trust? I never cheated on Mark. And you never cheated on Brit. Right? Because you're a good guy, Justin, and she was lucky to have you."
"I don't want to hear this, Joey," I told him quietly. I could see where this was going, trying to boost my confidence, trying to make me the good guy. And I was the good guy, but I didn't want that kind of comfort, not yet. Not when I needed to wallow in these bitter feelings until I'd milked them for as much venom as I could.
"I know. But I need to say them," he said "You're a good kid. I almost feel worse for you than myself." He paused for a moment. "But not quite. We should have brought liquor with us."
I moaned a little and didn't dare move for a moment. "I think," I said finally. "I've had enough." I waited for Joey to go on, to say something else to boost my ego, to make her betrayal a little easier to take, but nothing came but the soft sounds of him breathing. I missed it. "I lied," I said finally, realizing I didn't have the energy to hate anymore. "Go ahead. Flatter me."
Joey snorted unsubtly. "I'm not sure how many compliments are in me, Just. I haven't exactly had the best night. But Brit's an idiot to lose you, okay? She's not going to find someone better. Ever."
"Mark's pretty damn stupid, too," I said quietly, opening my eyes and watching the room spin in nauseous fascination. "You were so good to him. Joey. You did everything for him. He didn't buy into that stupid reputation thing, did he? Man...if a relationship like yours doesn't work, what will?"
"Something will," said Joey. "Something has to work, or what's it all for. My parents worked, right? I mean...more or less." The words were coming faster now as his thoughts sped up, as he allowed himself to have them at all, as he allowed himself to finally express them. "Do you think I did something wrong this time? Should I have done something different?"
"You guys were perfect," I said, letting a tiny smile turn my lips. "I though you guys were gonna last. It was totally ironic, the gay couple being the only one to be stable and all. Except Chris and Dani...and let's face it, Chris is totally whipped. You know...I think in the back of my mind, I knew I couldn't trust Brit like that...but I did anyway."
"You didn't want to believe the stories,' said Joey knowingly. "I don't blame you. She seemed sweet enough, Justin. We never hated her or anything. But she's young, and she acts young...not like you. She's not ready to commit to someone."
"What, so she slept around? So she cheated? That's no excuse," I spat out, the venom rising up in me from where I had been storing it, building it up. "How many times has this happened? How many times has she fucked around? How much of a fool has she made me?"
"You're no fool," said Joey. "No one has ever thought that." He reached out unexpectedly and started touching my arm with long, soothing strokes. It felt nice.
"How many times?" I repeated, as though I expected Joey to have the answer.
"More than once," he said reluctantly. "You weren't ready to believe it."
"Fuck," I hissed through clenched teeth, angry tears welling up in my eyes. A thousand doubts came back to me, about my trust, my intelligence. About my ability to be desired anymore. "I wasn't good enough."
"You were," said Joey firmly. "And I was. They weren't. They weren't good enough." He rolled onto his side and used his thumbs to brush my stray tears away; I hadn't even realized they'd leaked from my eyes, and tried to turn my head away in anger and shame. He turned it right back again, forced me to see him, to see the understanding in him. I don't think he wanted me to see the deeply hidden desire in them, but I did that too.
Suddenly I didn't want to think about Brit or Mark or anyone else anymore. I didn't want to think about any of the things that were making me sad and lonely. I wanted something to make me forget. Alcohol hadn't done it; maybe this would. Abruptly, I leaned forward and touched his lips with mine, holding them there, letting my tongue trace their outline and dip briefly into the warmth within before letting him go.
Joey blinked, not moving a muscle, staring at me with anxious eyes. "Fuck," he whispered. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
I just looked back at him, my gaze steady, my resolve firm. "You want me, right? You find me attractive?"
"Yes," admitted Joey easily, "but that's not the point..."
"Yeah, it is," I argued. "I want to be with someone who wants me tonight. I don't want any commitments or promises or lies--I just want to be worth something to someone. I want to be wanted. Just for tonight."
Joey leaned forward and kissed me back. "Okay, I can do that," he said. "Because she's an idiot, and you're worth something to me." He pulled away for a moment and forced me to look him in the eye. "If you want to stop--at any time--just tell me. I won't have you waking up with regrets. I've been there before and it's not pretty."
"I know what I'm getting into," I said, pushing Joey back down onto the bed. And I did, the buzz from the alcohol fading quickly now. I knew where I was, and who I was with, and what I wanted. Joey respected me, liked me, and that was all I needed right now. "And maybe I can make you feel a little better about yourself, too."
Joey didn't respond to that, instead lengthening and deepening our kiss. We'd said what needed to be said at this point; what was left was for our bodies to come together. To fuck or to make love or to do something in between that was exactly what we both needed, right in that moment. And afterwards maybe we would talk again, or maybe we would lay in each other's arms and try and forget what was waiting for us outside this room.
We stripped each other slowly, taking care to fold each piece of clothing or lay it over the back of the chair. This wasn't frantic, wasn't pure lust, it was friendship and comfort more than anything. When I reached out for Joey's body, it was for exploration at first; Joey lay back and let my hands roam his skin, touching each place over and over again.
"It's not so different," I whispered, then silenced as I began to explore Joey's body with my tongue. Those were the last either of us spoke before our rhythm increased, before I lay my body across Joey's and began rubbing our erections together. Before my fingers took hold of Joey's nipples and pinched in time with the thrusts of my hips.
Joey came before he meant to, the sensation rising quickly in him from what he had thought was merely idle pleasure. I looked at him with wide, apologetic eyes, caught by surprise by the gush of warm fluid between our stomachs. Joey just smiled, running a hand tenderly through my sweaty hair, and pushed me away gently.
I made a quiet whimper at the loss of the heat, of the touch, until Joey came to me again, his lips travelling down my body in an easy, familiar route, lapping up his own fluids before taking the tip of my erection into his mouth and sucking at it gently. Britney had done this for me before, but she had been quick, frantic, inexperienced. Joey knew what he was doing and knew it well and all I could do was go along for the ride.
I came with a muffled cry, flooding Joey's soft, warm mouth, closing my eyes before I could watch him swallow. Then our arms were around one another and our slick bodies lay entwined atop the covers in that anonymous room. Joey's lips rested again my neck lightly, less a kiss than a caress.
"Is it always like that?" I asked breathlessly, my voice barely more than a whisper.
"No," murmured Joey. "Just tonight. Just with you." He shifted in the bed until we were both in a more relaxed, comfortable position. "Sleep now...we'll talk again later."
"Okay," I said easily, as comforted by that though as by anything we'd just done. We both knew we couldn't sleep too late, knew that we needed to get back to our real hotel before anyone worried, even though security surely knew where we were. But right now we both wanted to pretend that that place, and the things that had happened to us there, wasn't real. Didn't exist in the little world we'd created with each other.
"Sleep," repeated Joey, and we both did just that.