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TradeOffs

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 5 months ago

Trade-Offs

 

Author: NA30

Fandom: The Yards (movie)

Pairing(s): Leo/Willie

Warnings: sex, spankings, self-harm

Spoilers: for the movie The Yards (2000)

Summary: Willie is devastated when Leo has an affair.

 

Nominated Category:

Best Established Relationship - Slash


 

 


Chapter 1

 

Leo couldn’t wait for the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender Student Alliance meeting to end. It was a waste of a beautiful early spring day to sit here listening to Todd play Fearless Leader. Hardly any lesbians still came to the meetings. Leo thought they had probably started their own club to talk about how stupid Todd is. Leo wondered if he could join them, but figured they wouldn’t want him around.

 

This mentor program was just another symptom of the stupidity. Everyone was busy enough with graduation looming over them. Leo didn’t remember anyone mentoring him when he started, and he’d done OK. But now he was supposed to buddy up with some first-year gay student and mentor him. Whatever that meant. The new students already knew how to be gay or they wouldn’t be joining the club. “Show them the ropes, introduce them around, make them feel welcome,” Todd was instructing. Todd’s fist was clenched around the idiotic “talking stick” he had introduced as a way to “show respect to speakers.” Leo doodled in his notebook, sketching Todd’s fist clenching a talking stick shaped like a cock. Sketching was a good stress-reducer. It calmed his mind. He wasn’t even listening to Todd’s annoying drone anymore.

 

“Earth to Leo!” Todd yelled suddenly from way too close.

 

Leo jumped and pretended to knock his notebook off his desk, making sure he closed it while picking it up. “What?”

 

“You weren’t listening.” Todd was holding out an envelope.

 

“Sorry. What?”

 

“Here’s your mentee. Open it and tell us who’s the lucky fella.” Todd sounded sarcastic, but Leo hoped he was just trying to lighten up the meeting. He opened the envelope and read: “Mentor: Leo Handler. Mentee: Chris Wilkinson.”

 

Todd frowned momentarily, then smiled again, all leadership and charm. “OK. Tim, call him in here. Stand up, Leo. Walk over to the door and welcome him, like a mentor. Chrissakes.”

 

“I wasn’t listening,” Leo apologized.

 

Sam Cunningham whispered up to him, “The mentees are in the hallway. Go greet your mentee and then go sit down with him. Make a big fuss.”

 

Leo shrugged and rolled his eyes. This was one of the stupidest things this club had ever done. He would walk out except that he wanted to bring Willie to the graduation party. He didn’t want to be on anyone’s bad side in case Willie acted weird at the party and needed people to be understanding. Hopefully Willie would just dance and be normal.

 

Leo walked across the room to the double doors manned by Tim. Tim was leaning out and calling for this Chris person. Leo waited. Tim turned around, leading someone by the arm. He let go of the arm and gave the new man a little shove towards Leo. In the far distance Todd said, “Chris Wilkinson, meet Leo Handler, your mentor and gay student ally.”

 

Chris Wilkinson was gorgeous, movie star handsome: over six feet tall, blond, muscular, self-confidently striding towards Leo, smiling to reveal perfectly even white teeth. Leo felt his stomach flutter a little. Chris held his hand out and Leo stared for a second before reaching for it. His mouth felt dry and he realized he’d been breathing through it. Chris said, “Hi, mentor!” His smile was friendly and funny at the same time, the kind of smile that makes you smile back. Chris had a white shell necklace around his neck, matching his teeth and setting off his golden tanned skin. Leo wondered how he managed to be so tan so early in the spring. Chris said, “I’m Chris. Not sure I caught your name?” His grip tightened and released on Leo’s hand, and Leo realized he’d been holding the handshake too long. He let go. His hand felt tingly.

 

“Uh, hi. Chris. I mean, you’re Chris. I’m, fuck, you know that. God. I’m, Luh-leo.”

 

Chris’s smile faded down from blinding to just pleasant. He tilted his head and watched while Leo stammered through his greeting. Then he looked around the industrial meeting room. The other mentor/mentee couples were shaking hands while the rest of the new people were ushered in. “Well, Leo. Do we have to stay here or can you mentor me over a cup of coffee somewhere without florescent lights?”

 

Leo felt a little flustered. “Uhhhh, yeah, sure, c’mon.” He turned and headed for the side door. He looked back once to see if Chris was following. Chris was. Leo’s shoulderblades itched.

 

It felt good to get outside. Leo stretched. No matter how tall he stretched, he wasn’t as tall as Chris. “It’s good to get outside,” he tried. He wasn’t very good at small talk, even though Willie tried to show him how to do it.

 

“Sure is. Is that Todd guy always so anal about everything?”

 

Leo laughed. “Pretty much, yeah.” His earlier annoyance with Todd had faded though. The mentoring thing was turning out to be better than he’d expected. “Do you have coffee preferences?”

 

“Yeah. It should have brandy in it. Is there a bar around here?”

 

Leo hesitated. Was he supposed to drink while mentoring? Chris smiled again, and Leo remembered it was for a club, so it was all recreational, or at least extracurricular. “There’s the student bar over there past the parking lot.” He waved his arm vaguely.

 

“No gay bars in the neighborhood?”

 

“We’d have to take the subway two stops.”

 

“Let’s do it.”

 

 

Chapter 2

 

"Why didn't you call me?" Willie asked. "And you turned your phone off. I wouldn't have bothered cooking if I knew you were gonna be this late." The serving spoon in his hand banged loudly against the plate, and then he slammed the microwave shut. Leo wondered if Willie was angry or just loud. Willie could be noisy sometimes and it didn’t mean anything. Chris had been calm and mellow. They'd been a little buzzed from the joint and the good songs on the radio, but even in the bar they'd just talked quietly about life. The munchies had propelled them through four bowls of horrible bar popcorn. Willie slammed a plate of mashed potatoes and meatloaf and gravy on the table in front of him. Willie brought him another beer, but then just stood there, biting his lip. Leo looked up at him. Willie said, "I didn't mean it, Leo. I would always cook for you."

 

Leo rubbed Willie's forearm, then patted his hip. "It's OK," he said. He wished he didn't feel so groggy from the beer and the shots and the pot. "Dinner looks good." He hoped there wasn't going to be drama now. It had been such a nice evening, hanging out with Chris, making a new friend, really talking to someone.

 

Willie kissed the top of his head. "You look good, papa." He stepped back and looked at Leo more carefully. "Your eyes are all bloodshot."

 

Leo shook his head and filled his mouth with mashed potatoes. "Oh," he mumbled. "Too much studyin', readin' and shit."

 

Willie smiled at him. "You're high, Leo!" He sounded amused.

 

Leo shrugged. "I had like two drags." Ten was like two. "To be social."

 

Willie smiled again. "And then you hadda go to a bar and be social too. How's Pat?"

 

"He's fine." Leo had talked to Pat earlier, when he'd canceled their study date so he could stay out longer with Chris. So he knew Pat was fine. So it wasn't a lie.

 

"Good." Willie stood up and ruffled Leo's hair, then put the kettle on. "You know, I don't care when you go out with Pat, Leo. I'm over that now. I understand you wanna see your friends. You don't gotta be secretive about it. Just call me and tell me don't wait dinner." He smiled back over his shoulder at Leo. "You want cocoa?"

 

"Tea, please," Leo answered. That over the shoulder look was Willie's cute face. Willie was sweet, to still be flirting a little even though they'd been together awhile and got married and everything. Chris had flirted a little too, and he'd been really funny -- that whole "fellate the joint" thing had made Leo laugh so hard he'd thought he'd throw up. But he didn't, because no one looked attractive throwing up. And maybe it had just been the weed making him laugh at everything. But it had seemed like they'd really connected in the bar. He felt like Chris really listened to him, and he had loved hearing about how Chris grew up in California and could surf and how his parents were OK with his lifestyle. Suddenly he realized Willie was frowning at him. "What?" he asked.

 

"I asked do you want dessert? You just drifted off there. Maybe you better get in bed."

 

"What do you want from me, man? No, I don't want dessert. I don't wanna go to bed yet."

 

"You gotta get up early."

 

"I know what time I gotta get up."

 

"You're always cranky after you’re high."

 

"I'm not cranky!" Leo stood up and Willie took a half-step backwards. Leo closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath, then opened his arms. "C'mere, honey." Willie’s green eyes were dark and needy. He brushed his lips over Leo's and snuggled his head down on Leo's shoulder, hugging hard. Leo hugged back tightly. "Thanks for making me dinner. It was delicious. I'm sorry I didn't call you."

 

Willie's hands snaked under Leo's t-shirt to cling to his skin. "No problemo, papi," he murmured. Leo stared over Willie's shoulder, out the window, at the lights of the anonymous traffic in the street. He was getting hard again. Chris had driven him home and hugged him when they said goodbye. It had been a good hug, and then Chris had done that little lip-brushing thing, sort of social. Only Leo had kissed back and if he was honest about it they'd been kissing in the car, idling in front of his apartment building, for almost fifteen minutes. Willie pressed against his erection and nibbled his neck.

 

Leo rubbed his face against Willie's hair. Chris had been astonished to hear that Leo had married the only man he'd ever slept with. Leo hugged Willie tighter. He absolutely had. Willie was the goddamn love of his life and he never wanted anyone else and no one could ever love him as much as Willie did. But that's not what he'd said to Chris. He'd said, "He gives great head though."

 

Willie squirmed, maybe trying to breathe. Leo loosened his grip a little. Willie's hand slid around to rub at the front of his jeans. Leo grunted. Willie whispered, "Want me take care of you, papi?" He licked his lips, smiling with his eyes.

 

"Willie." Leo didn't even know what he wanted to say. I'm totally hot for this guy at school but it's nothing against you? That was bullshit.

 

Willie stroked his face. "Shh. Leonito. You get so weird when you're high, all emotional." He smiled that warm, soft smile again, the one that always made Leo's throat tight. "You get more like me," Willie crooned. "My Leo. Come to bed now, papi. Come with me. We'll lie down and be more comfortable." He smiled like he'd said something funny.

 

Leo frowned and let Willie lead him to the bedroom. He stripped his clothes off slowly. Willie was quicker; he was naked and kneeling on the bed waiting when Leo remembered. That's what he'd said their first time -- let's lie down and be more comfortable. All the stupid things he said -- Willie heard them better than they really were. Leo suddenly felt like crying. "I gotta get some water," he blurted, and ran to the bathroom.

 

He blew his nose and splashed water on his face and tried to calm down. It was no big deal. It was a kiss from some guy, some handsome blond guy from California, but still just some guy. Just a kiss. No big deal. Just forget it, he told himself. It wasn't a thing. It was just friendly. He's not brooding about it. He's probably still out partying or something with much better-looking people than you. Willie's right -- you are weird when you're high and that's all this is.

 

When he returned to the bedroom, Willie was leaning back against the pillows. "Everything OK?" Willie asked.

 

Leo forced a smile. "Yeah, babe. I'm good."

 

Willie grinned and knelt up again. "I hope so."

 

Leo knelt beside him on the bed and rubbed Willie's shoulder. "Um, can we--"

 

"Of course, Leo. Tell me, baby."

 

"I wanna make love to you," Leo said quietly. He hated that he'd talked about Willie like that. That had been wrong.

 

Willie moved closer and straddled him, kissed him gently, his tongue soft but persistent. "You can do anything you want," Willie said earnestly.

 

Chapter 3

 

Thursday, ten days later

 

Pat was going on and on about where he might find a better apartment for less money in a cooler neighborhood. Leo sipped his beer and wondered idly if he would even stay in touch with Pat once they had graduated. It might be nice to go to some cooler bars than this dive filled with community college students and hospital workers. My fuckin' people, he thought to himself, and then wondered why he was feeling derisive. It's not like he could afford fancy bars with twenty dollar drinks. He looked at his empty beer bottle with distaste. There ought to be some middle ground between twenty bucks and a Budweiser. It was his round; he pointed at Pat's Heineken, and Pat shrugged and nodded. Leo headed to the bar, thinking he should change the subject when he got back. They could talk about basketball.

 

Leo ordered Pat's Heineken and a Brooklyn Lager for himself. Tony the bartender brought the drinks, but waved away his proffered money with "Compliments of your friend." Leo frowned. Pat knew it was his round. Tony jerked his head towards the other side of the bar, nearer the pool tables. Leo peered over and froze when he saw Chris Wilkinson waving and smiling his sunny California smile. He'd never seen Chris in here before. Well, of course he hadn't: Chris had just moved here. Leo felt his IQ leaking away.

 

While he stood there, trying to process the sight of perfect Chris in the dive bar, perfect Chris started to walk towards him. He was tall and blond and graceful, navigating confidently through the crowd. He reached Leo. "Hi, Leo," he smiled. "Mentor man."

 

"Hi," Leo managed. He swallowed hard. "Hi, Chris. How are you?"

 

"I'm fine. Better now I've seen you. You come here a lot?"

 

"Just, like, after school, y'know? Not for fun."

 

Chris tilted his head. "Oh. Where's the fun place?"

 

Leo frowned. He didn't have a fun place. Willie knew all the fun places. He said, "Um, I don't know."

 

Chris smiled. "Maybe you make your own fun?"

 

Leo shrugged. He wasn't sure what they were talking about. He hoped this wasn't one of those metaphor conversations. "I guess maybe." Was Chris laughing at him? Was he a bad mentor because he didn't know any good local gay bars? He could take him to Buddy's but he didn't want to because he went there with Willie sometimes. Not that that should make a difference, should it? Did he not want people to see them? Willie didn't talk to anyone in Buddy's anyway, so who cares? He drank some of his beer, and then remembered, "Oh, hey, thanks for the drinks. Um, do you wanna join us?"

 

"I thought you'd never ask."

 

Chris followed Leo back to the table. Pat looked irritated. "There you are. I thought you got lost."

 

Leo gave him a warning look. "I met a friend at the bar. In fact, this round's on him. This is Chris Wilkinson. Chris, this is my friend Pat."

 

Pat grabbed his beer and shook hands. "Hi, nice to meet you."

 

Chris looked at Leo. "Oh! Your friend? Not your husband?"

 

Pat laughed. "No, I ain't his husband! You'd know if I was Willie, man!" He simpered a little and batted his eyelashes at Leo. He whined, in a bad Spanish accent, "Papi, who is this man? How you know him? You no talk to him, you are mine! I kill him! I kill him, papi!"

 

Chris looked fascinated. Leo shoved Pat's shoulder. "Shut up. He does not do that."

 

Pat snorted. "Yeah, right."

 

Leo glared. "He threw a glass of water. So what? Stop picking on him."

 

"I'm just filling in your new friend," Pat smirked. "His life could be at risk."

 

Leo was speechless. Worse, he could feel himself blushing, and what would Chris think he was blushing about? But if Pat was implying he liked Chris, that meant Pat could tell, which meant it was totally obvious. Leo stared at the tabletop and tried to think of something to say. Chris shifted beside him and then his hand was warm in the small of Leo's back, rubbing. Chris sounded relaxed and casual. "I appreciate it, Pat. I'll keep an eye out for homicidal husbands."

 

Pat nodded. "Yeah, cuz Leo thinks the sun shines out his ass. Guess that's true love for ya."

 

Leo hated Pat for a second, but then Chris's hand rubbed again. Chris said, "Sounds like it is. Makes me feel a little jealous."

 

Leo wished he could look up and see if Chris was smiling, but he was still blushing too hard. He stared down at the table. Pat snorted. Chris kept talking, like it was a normal conversation. "Everybody wants true love, don't they? Don't you?"

 

Leo raised his head and looked at Pat. Pat stared back at him for a long minute, then quickly drained the rest of his beer. "I'm going home to my true love right now before she gets sick of waiting for me. Nice to meet you, Chris. I'll see you at school, Leo."

 

Leo said, "You don't gotta leave."

 

"Yes, I do. I gotta go home."

 

Pat left them sitting in silence. Leo still didn't know what to say. He wished Pat hadn't said all that shit. He stared into his beer.

 

Chris said, "I interrupted your evening. I'm sorry."

 

Leo looked up. "No. I mean, I'm still here, right? Evening's still happening."

 

Chris looked even more handsome when he looked concerned and empathetic. "But you were spending time with your friend."

 

"We were just drinking and bitching about school. We do the same fucking thing every Thursday, and we talk about the same fucking things, and you didn't interrupt nothing important."

 

"So why are you upset?"

 

"I'm not." Leo felt his stomach turn over.

 

"Oh. Good. You want another drink or you wanna go somewhere else?"

 

Leo shrugged into his jacket and stood up. "Let's go, man."

 

Chris's car was parked a quick walk away; Leo felt distracted by memories of kissing in it. The mixed scents of the car interior and Chris's delicious cologne were bringing it back in a rush. The car pulled into traffic. Leo leaned back in his seat and took deep breaths. "What cologne is that?"

 

"Aramis. You like it?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"I'll get you some."

 

"No." He could never explain to Willie why some man bought him cologne. "I mean, I like it on you."

 

"So, where we goin', Leo?"

 

"I don't know. Where do you wanna go?"

 

After a moment of silence, Chris sighed and said, "I wanna go to my apartment and take you to bed." Leo struggled not to make a sound. He didn't want to be misinterpreted. After a minute, Chris continued. "Before you decide, maybe you wanna know there are clean sheets on the bed, that I put there this afternoon before I went out to see if I could find you. I asked around at school to find out where you drank."

 

"I gave you my number."

 

"And I gave you my number." There was another silence. Chris’s voice was sensible and soothing. "So we didn't call each other. It's an awkward situation. You're married. You don't know me so well. You never been with a man except your husband. If you want, I'll take you home. If you want, I'll take you to another bar so if you decide to come see my clean sheets you can blame the booze. But it's gotta be a gay bar, cuz I can't sit there drinking and not touch you, Leo." He reached over and put his hand on Leo's thigh; it felt heavy and hot even through Leo's jeans.

 

"I love Willie," Leo croaked, surprised at how thick his own voice sounded.

 

"I know you do. So where do you wanna go?"

 

"Your place," Leo whispered. He put his hand over Chris's.

 

Chris's hand clasped his and squeezed. "Good call," he whispered. The car sped up. Leo tried not to notice when they went by the turn for his neighborhood, but he noticed anyway. It reminded him to turn his phone off so he wouldn't be reminded again later.

 

Chris lived in a South Bronx loft that used to be part of a factory. Leo didn’t know this neighborhood very well. When he got out of the car, he looked around for a subway entrance so he'd know where to go if he had to leave suddenly. He wondered if he was going to chicken out. Chris's hand pressed his back again, and Chris guided him into an elevator Leo hadn't even noticed. They kissed all the way to the sixth floor.

 

The loft apartment was stylish -- sleek furniture, wood floors, everything cool and modern. There was no sideboard shrine of mother photos and holy cards. There was a giant flat-screen TV mounted on the wall. Willie would kill for that, Leo thought. Probably Willie would kill him for other things at the moment. "You can put your stuff on the couch," Chris said. "Can I get you anything to drink? Are you hungry?" He was the perfect gentleman in his perfect apartment. "I've got some beer. And wine."

 

"You got any whisky?"

 

"Yeah, I got that. You want ice?"

 

"Just one."

 

"Sit down. I'll get it." Chris nodded at the leather loveseat. Leo sat down. Chris switched on a fancy stereo system and old Rolling Stones played at a moderate level, soft enough to talk over. Leo couldn't even see a CD anywhere; he wondered if it was one of those computerized systems. He wondered how much money Chris had. Then Chris was putting a glass in his hand, a double shot of whiskey and an ice cube. Chris sank down onto the sofa next to him and held out his own matching glass. "To satisfaction," he toasted.

 

Leo clicked glasses with him and sipped. The whisky burn felt wonderful, and suddenly he was too hot in his clothes. He put his drink on the multi-leveled coffee table and yanked his t-shirt off over his head. Chris stared at his chest with his mouth open. Leo smiled. He knelt up on the sofa, then straddled Chris's legs, facing him so Chris could look at his chest close up. Chris looked up instead, and Leo leaned down and kissed him hard. He put one hand in Chris's pale, silky hair and reached for his whisky with the other. He drained his glass and grinned. It felt good to just feel good and not worry. Chris didn’t care about being pinned down; he didn’t get scared if you pushed hard. Leo’s lips felt thick and swollen, from the booze or maybe from the kissing. Chris licked at his nipple, then bit sharply. Leo shouted and arched his back. Chris's muscled arms were holding him close and it felt so good except for the nibbling which tickled and the biting which hurt. Leo realized he was rubbing and grinding and tried to hold still. Chris put his head back and looked up at him, evaluating. "OK?"

 

Leo nodded. "Yeah," he croaked. "Hurts."

 

Chris smiled. "In a bad way?"

 

"No," Leo whispered.

 

Chris clasped his hands behind Leo's neck. "You’re gorgeous. C'mon, let's go get on the clean sheets before I just fuck you on the couch." He squeezed Leo's butt. Leo got off him and stood up. Chris held out his hand. Leo yanked him to his feet. Chris led him across the loft to the sleeping area, marked out by a room-dividing shelf. There was a low king-size bed with lots of pillows and the promised clean linens and bright blankets. Leo wanted to admire it all but was distracted by that whole "fuck you" thing. Was he not going to be on top? Chris reached for his belt buckle and unfastened it, then unsnapped the top of his jeans. He had his fingers on the zipper when Leo grabbed his hand. "What, Leo?" he asked quietly.

 

"I wanna be on top," Leo said.

 

Chris's hands dropped to his sides. "No. I top."

 

"All the time?"

 

"Yeah." Chris took a step back. "You wanna forget it?" He'd taken his shirt off too. His tan skin looked golden in the flattering bedroom lighting. His chest was smooth, probably shaved or waxed. He looked like a model or a superhero or a movie star.

 

Leo unzipped his jeans and pushed them down along with his underpants. His cock jutted out, hard for the superhero. There was a certain relief in having it out there. He toed out of his shoes and stepped out of his pile of clothes, then peeled his socks off too. Chris embraced him again, crooning and stroking him, murmuring about how beautiful he was. Leo shoved him towards the bed, anxious to get to the fucking now. He wasn’t sure how to arrange himself. He made a little pillow pile and flopped over it, because that always worked out well at home. Then he put home firmly out of his mind. He said, "OK, lube me."

 

Chris snorted. "That's so, like, direct."

 

Leo propped himself up on his elbows. "What?"

 

"Nothing. Shhh."

 

Leo felt his butt cheeks separated and a glob of something, presumably lube, plopped on there. Then Chris was taking his belt off. Leo heard leather slide against leather and he slid sideways off the pillows and looked back. Chris was holding his belt folded in half. "Don't hit me," Leo warned.

 

Chris tossed the belt on the floor. "Alright." He unzipped his jeans and wiggled them down, squirming out of them. His cock was huge, Leo thought. Or maybe it just looked big from this angle, big and red and pulsing at him. Chris smiled at the look on his face and thrust his hips forward. He rolled a condom over himself and Leo was glad, because he'd totally forgotten about that.

 

"Do the finger thing," Leo said. He got back on the pillows. Chris snorted again, but he grabbed the lube and squeezed some onto his fingers, then slid two of them at once into Leo's butt. Leo grunted in surprise. The fingers made scissoring motions, not slow rubbing. Leo didn't like it. It was weird to have Chris so close and not look at him. Leo said, "OK."

 

"Good, cuz that's doing nothing for me," Chris said cheerfully. His voice sounded far away, but he was only kneeling up. The bed shifted and Chris's legs rubbed against his, pushing Leo's thighs further apart. Leo's legs felt stiff and he had to concentrate to bend them more. He thought Chris would say something else, but he didn't. He just grabbed Leo's ass and shoved his cock into it. One second later, Leo knew it wasn't going to work. Chris was too big. Leo wasn't ready. His ass burned and ached. Leo squirmed and yelled, "Wait!"

 

"Hold on, Leo, almost there, breathe through it." Chris sounded breathless. "You're so fuckin' tight. Oh my god." His hands were hard on Leo's hips and his spread thighs kept Leo's legs apart and off balance.

 

There was a new wave of pain as Chris pushed past another tense ring of muscle. Leo heard a high-pitched cry when he breathed out, so he held his breath for a minute, but that made the pain worse. "Chris!" he called.

 

"You're alright, Leo. Keep breathing. It'll feel good in a minute."

 

"No! Stop!"

 

Chris pushed hard again and then he was all the way in, hips tight against Leo's slick skin. "There we go," he said. "I'll wait a second while you catch your breath. Don't your boyfriend ever fuck ya?" Leo hadn't known it could hurt this much. He tried to be calm; he tried to relax; but the scary tearing feeling made him panicky. His dick had gone soft when the pain flared. He covered his face with his hands. Chris's hands stroked at his shoulders, not unkindly. "You're so fresh, Leo. So open. It's really hot. Lemme see your face. C'mon, tilt your head a little and lemme see."

 

Leo tucked his chin and hid his face. He was crying hard. "Stop!" He hated how the sob was in his voice.

 

Chris chuckled. "Oh, shhh. You're fine. You're gonna love it in a minute." He started to move on top of Leo, sliding in and out of him. The pain, which had dulled, came back in waves, rising and falling with Chris's movements inside him, until the waves became a whirlpool sucking him down. The whole world narrowed to his ass, how it felt being plowed open, how it hurt to be fucked hard. Unexpectedly, the pain blurred into one thing and a new thing chimed in, crowding his feelings. His arousal returned, the jagged spikes of stimulation leaving him gasping and drymouthed, anxious suddenly that Chris would stop too soon. Leo felt his body move, trying to accommodate all the feelings at once, and Chris said, "There ya go, there ya are." He was rising to meet Chris's thrusts, squealing at each one, trying desperately to be quiet. He reared up harder against Chris and Chris slid a hand under him and grabbed Leo's dick, jerking it hard in time to his own rhythm. Leo lost track of everything for a long minute of blank shuddering release, hearing nothing but the echo of his own shout, his own heart pounding in his ears.

 

When he opened his eyes, Chris was beside him, staring blankly at the ceiling. Leo rolled off the pillow and threw it on the floor, then turned to stare up at the ceiling too. His ass throbbed painfully. The room smelled like shit and sex. He was cold. He sat up to reach for a blanket and gasped when the movement made his ass hurt more. Chris prodded his arm. "Go clean up before you do any more damage to my sheets."

 

Leo didn't want to go anywhere. He wanted to curl up and sleep. Chris pushed at his arm again. Leo couldn't look at his face. He pushed his legs over the edge of the bed and talked himself into standing up. His legs were a little shaky and his ass was unhappy with all this movement. There were new aches in his thighs as he crossed the room and Leo wondered if he was bruised. He wondered if he was walking funny; it felt like maybe he was. Chris didn't say anything, and Leo couldn't bear to turn around and see if he was watching. He had the presence of mind to bend over and grab his clothes off the floor. Then he shuffled the rest of the way to the bathroom and locked the door.

 

He looked doubtfully at the toilet. Did he need to throw up? No. He looked in the mirror over the sink. He didn't look like himself. He looked kind of hot -- face flushed, eyes bright and dewy, sweaty hair all mussed. He blinked and looked again. There was beard rash all over his neck and chin and bite marks on his chest. Fuck. He looked fucked is how he looked. He smelled himself again. Maybe the shower would help.

 

Leo came out of the bathroom, dressed and combed and as presentable as he was going to get, to find Chris lounging in front of the television dressed in a sweat suit. Leo was careful not to look in his eyes. There was a freshly delivered pizza and a cold six-pack of beer on the coffee table. Chris waved him over. "Fresh as a daisy now? Eat something." The pizza smelled wonderful. The glint of moisture on the beer bottle promised to wash away that last catch in his throat. Leo bit his lip. He had a little speech to make about wrong turns and staying friends and then he was going to grab his coat and go. Chris held out the clicker. "What are you waiting for? Sit with me." Leo sank down on the couch and reached for a beer. Chris opened it for him and kissed his cheek. "What, are ya all shy now?" Leo clutched his beer bottle in both hands and shook his head. He wished Chris would hug him. Probably that wasn't cool. After a minute, Chris waved the clicker and the volume on the TV hushed down to a whisper. "Leo?"

 

"Yeah?" His voice sounded raspy.

 

"Say something."

 

"What?"

 

"Are you OK?"

 

Leo kept staring at the beer bottle. "I guess."

 

"You can't look at me?"

 

Leo forced himself to look at Chris. His eyes filled up and he looked away again. Chris was still smiling like a golden Zen surfer god, proof that Leo was a stupid overemotional idiot. Chris said, "That didn't look too OK."

 

"I'm fine."

 

"It wasn't good for you?"

 

Leo didn't know how to answer that. He had come really hard. He was still sore. He felt abandoned, which didn't make sense because he had beer and pizza. Chris was waiting for an answer. Chris had been there and seen him, and if he hadn't looked like he was having fun, Chris would have stopped. Leo would have stopped if it had been the other way around. "It was good," Leo said.

 

"You're very emotional," Chris said. "It's kind of attractive."

 

"You're not," Leo answered. There was a moment of silence.

 

"I guess opposites attract," Chris said. He opened the pizza box and handed Leo a plate and a napkin. "Eat. You can't say I sent you home hungry."

 

Leo felt a flash of irritation. "Who would I say it to?" He wanted to ask why Chris was sending him home.

 

Chris shrugged. "Anyone. Why? Is this a deep dark extramarital secret?"

 

Leo put his pizza down. He couldn't eat and argue at once. "I'd appreciate if you could be a little discreet. Nobody needs to know." It felt weird to be sitting here talking about this. "How about you?" he asked.

 

"What about me?"

 

"Are you OK?"

 

"I guess, since I don't got no emotions."

 

Leo sighed. "I meant, you weren't showing none. So I'm asking if you're OK."

 

Chris sighed and shrugged. "Sure. You're a hot guy, Leo. And you're so tight that it's kind of extra intense. That whole bucking and squealing thing is exciting. But you weren’t clean, which was kinda gross, and this whole sulking thing after is kind of a drag. You know, it's supposed to be fun. But maybe we'll get better at it. Are you gonna be available this weekend?"

 

Leo gaped at him. Chris was criticizing him right to his face. "Um, no. No, I'm busy."

 

"Well, maybe I'll see you next week and we can find a good time, OK?"

 

Leo put his beer down. "I don't know. Maybe we should just stay friends."

 

Chris smirked. "So you're not OK. Just like I thought. It's alright, Leo. A lot of guys have trouble with a big guy like me."

 

Leo punched him in the mouth. It felt like the right thing to do. He stood up and picked his jacket up off the end of the couch. "A lot of guys have trouble with me too," he said. He walked out the door and slammed it behind him, then couldn't find the stairs. He jabbed anxiously at the elevator button, hoping Chris wouldn't come after him, but when the elevator door opened, he felt a pang of disappointment as he got on. Chris wasn't coming after him because Chris didn't really give a shit.

 

Out on the sidewalk, Leo looked again for a subway entrance but couldn’t find one. He thought about calling Pat but he didn't want to explain anything. He started walking north. Eventually he saw a gypsy cab and waved it down, then leaned back and listened to the Spanish radio. He couldn't wait to get home to Willie.

 

*

 

He'd expected Willie to be asleep at this hour, but before he could shut the apartment door, Willie was hovering in the living room doorway, staring at him. It wasn't a good stare, but Leo wasn't sure what it meant. He decided to play dumb -- never that much of a stretch, he thought grimly. "Hey Willie," he smiled.

 

"Hey." Willie leaned against the doorway.

 

"What's up?"

 

"Me. And you."

 

That wasn't good either. Leo crossed the tiny dining room and kissed Willie's cheek. "You OK, babe?"

 

"I'm fine." He stepped closer to Leo and grabbed Leo's chin, tilting it back and forth. He ran his thumb gently along Leo's jaw. "What happened to your face? It's all red."

 

"Oh! I think it's allergies or something. I'm gonna try a different shaving cream."

 

Willie looked at the beard burns for another few seconds and then released Leo's chin. "Alright. Lemme know which brand you want now. I'm gonna try and do shopping this weekend. C'mere." He took Leo's hand and led him towards the hallway.

 

"What? Where we going?"

 

Willie smiled. "Don't be paranoid, baby." He led Leo to the bathroom and got a tube of ointment from the medicine cabinet. "Hold still, Leo." He rubbed the ointment carefully along the beard burn, then kissed Leo's lips lightly and smiled. "Wait till the morning to shave now, see if that helps. If not, you should show a doctor at work."

 

"OK," Leo whispered.

 

"You OK?"

 

"Yeah, I'm tired," Leo said.

 

"You want something to eat?"

 

"No, Willie. Thanks though. I just wanna go to bed."

 

Willie hugged him tight. "OK. Is it OK if I come in later? I wanna finish my episode."

 

"Your episode?"

 

"My anime shit." Leo was still trying to figure out what Willie was talking about when Willie added, "What am I saying? I'm stupid. It's on a DVD, so I can just watch it tomorrow. Come on, papi. Let's go to bed." I should tell him it's OK, Leo thought. But he didn't. He took Willie's hand and brought him into the bedroom and took his pants down. Willie swallowed hard and looked tense, but he put his hands on Leo's shoulders and managed a nervous smile. "Leo?"

 

"What, baby?

"

 

"You're, um, I left the TV on, and I didn't brush my teeth yet."

"Wanna fuck you."

 

"Si, papi," Willie whispered. He offered no resistance when Leo shoved him onto the bed. He just got on his knees and elbows and waited. Leo yanked his own pants down, lubed up quickly, and buried himself in Willie as deeply as he could. Willie grunted and panted and moaned once. Leo watched sweat spring up on Willie's skin and then slide and pool between his shoulderblades. Willie trembled against him. Then Willie slid his arm down and put his hand over Leo's where it gripped his hip. He rubbed his fingers against Leo's. They were still and silent for another moment. Leo wondered if he'd lost his mind. He should fuck him or get off him. "Leo?" Willie cried. "Leo? Hold my hand?"

 

Leo pulled out of him and in practically the same motion lay down beside Willie and pulled him into his arms, holding him tightly. Willie lay quietly in his arms. Leo stared at the ceiling and hated himself. Manhandling Willie didn't prove a damn thing to Chris. Chris didn't even know he was doing it. So who was he proving it to, himself? That's pathetic. He rubbed his hand up and down Willie's spine, not sure whether he was soothing Willie or himself. "Leo?" Willie whispered.

 

"I'm sorry, honey. I'm sorry, Will."

 

"No." Willie squirmed. "It's OK. Did I wreck it with the handholding? I'm sorry. I don't have to do that. Do you wanna tie me up? Or I could just be good for you. Hold still, I mean. I'm good at holding still, papi. You say what you want."

 

"I, I don't want anything, hon. We're good. We're done. I'm sorry."

 

"Oh," Willie whispered. "OK." He swallowed hard. "Leo?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

Willie turned onto his side and pulled Leo's hand onto his erection. "Please?"

 

Leo was startled. "I thought-- I thought I hurt you?"

 

Willie put his hand over Leo's and rubbed it against himself a little. He narrowed his eyes. "Is that what you want?"

 

"What do you mean?"

 

Willie shrugged. "I can act like it's killing me, if it's hot for you."

 

"I don't wanna hurt you!"

 

Willie shrugged again. "Not me personally, Leo. Just like, if I was someone else."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"If you wanna pretend I'm someone else, someone you wanna hurt, that's OK," Willie explained. He seemed calm enough about it, but he wasn't making eye contact. He was talking apparently to Leo's chin.

 

"Do you pretend I'm other people?"

 

Willie looked into his eyes and smiled. "Sometimes I pretend you're Jesus."

 

Leo snorted and sat up. "You're crazy."

 

Willie grabbed at Leo's t-shirt and rubbed against his thigh. "You gonna gimme a hand here or what?"

 

Leo made his voice mean. "You roll over and spread your legs, boy."

 

"Leo!" Willie whined.

 

"Do I need to get up and get my belt or are you gonna gimme your ass like I told ya?"

 

Willie looked uncertain and rolled over and spread his legs. Leo lay down between them and started rimming. Willie squeaked and squirmed happily, and Leo was glad. At least he was doing one thing right.

 

Chapter 4

Friday morning

 

"Where the fuck is it?" Leo yelled.

 

"I don't know," Willie said again. He forced his voice to be quiet. "I haven't seen it since yesterday."

 

"Did I have it with me when I came in?" Leo demanded.

 

"I don't know. I wasn't really thinking about it," Willie said even more quietly. Leo was overreacting. He'd obviously left his backpack someplace, probably at the bar, or in Pat's car, or something like that. It was stupid for Leo to expect him to keep track of his shit.

 

Leo stomped through the living room looking in places he'd already looked. Then he screamed "Fuck!" Willie felt himself flinching down into the sofa and hated it. He reminded himself it was just Leo overreacting. There was nothing to be scared of. Leo grabbed Willie's boxed set of Xena episodes off the top of the entertainment center and threw it against the wall, snarling. Willie curled up on the sofa, protecting his head, biting back outrage. Leo had no right to throw his stuff. Those were his favorite DVDs and now the edge of the box would be dented and he had deliberately bought them new so they'd be nice. He deserved nice stuff too. "Willie!" Leo screamed at him. "Stop lying around and help me find my fuckin' backpack!" He pulled roughly on Willie's arm.

 

Willie wasn't sure how he got to his feet, but he was on them suddenly and he was practically yelling. Raising his voice, anyway. He heard himself with surprise, waiting to hear what he was going to say. "Stop yelling at me!" He darted across the room and picked up the Xena box. There was only a little dent. "Don't wreck my stuff! It's not my fault!" Willie put the Xena box down carefully on the recliner in case Leo threw him into the wall next. He should run and hide in the bathroom now, only he didn't feel like running and hiding. He felt like slapping Leo like a hysterical girl, but he'd run out of nerve. He sat down on the recliner and hugged the box of DVDs to his chest. He said quietly, "I don't know where your backpack is. I'm sorry."

 

Leo stared at him for a minute, and then looked at his watch. "I'm gonna be late for work." Willie didn't say anything. Leo leaned down and kissed Willie's forehead. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, baby."

 

Willie pointed to the small dent. "It's OK. It's just a little mark."

 

Leo rubbed Willie's shoulder. "Want me to buy you a new one?"

 

"No, it's OK. Just, don't."

 

"OK. I'm sorry."

 

"It's OK. I'm sorry you lost your backpack."

 

"I'll see ya later." He ruffled Willie's hair, and then he was gone in a whirl of jacket-grabbing and stomping.

 

Willie went out to the kitchen and poured himself another cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. He changed the radio to the Spanish station. The song was about love turning cold, so he turned it off again. Just because he stood up for himself didn't mean his love was turning cold. Leo didn't usually throw tantrums like that. And Leo had been weird in bed last night too, at least at first. Willie shook his head and stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray. He was not going to sit here and go over and over shit in his head until he made up some big problem. Leo was probably just stressed about his big graduation test. The laundry pickup was in half an hour and he didn't even have it packed up.

 

Willie got the laundry bags out of the linen closet and brought them to the bedroom to pack up the dirty clothes from the hamper. He didn't have to sort the colors or anything -- the laundry did that -- but he had to pull out stuff for the drycleaners, like Leo's good shirt. Lots of times they didn't have anything to dryclean; it was all jeans and t-shirts and scrubs and sweatsuits. Leo's scrubs got filthy at the hospital. Willie pretreated the worst stains, like blood. Bloodstains were hard to get out. He sprayed the blood spot with OxyClean and threw the underpants on the pile of scrubs and then stopped and sat down hard on the floor. He picked the underpants up and looked at them again. There was blood in Leo's underpants.

 

Willie sat there staring at the underpants until the doorbell rang. The laundry guy. He put the underpants in his pocket, ran out to the kitchen and buzzed the laundry guy into the building, then ran back to the bedroom and packed up the rest of the laundry as quickly as he could. He exchanged the dirty laundry for this week's clean laundry and paid and tipped and smiled like his mind wasn't spinning in slow sick circles. He unpacked the clean laundry and put it neatly away, and then he sat at the kitchen table and lit another cigarette.

 

He shouldn't leap to conclusions. It could be something totally normal. Actually, Willie didn't see how it could be, because he had never found blood in his underpants when it didn't come from someone hurting him. But he hadn't hurt Leo. He hadn't even fucked Leo in a couple of weeks, and when he had, he hadn't hurt him. He never hurt him. And Leo wasn't fucking anyone else, so -- Willie's head hurt. He wished Leo was here so he could just ask him. He thought about calling his cellphone, but it didn't seem like a good question for the phone. Leo wouldn't want to talk about his hemorrhoids or whatever over the phone. And that's probably all it was, Willie told himself. A warm bath and some ointment and he'd be fine.

 

Willie went back to the living room and tried to watch TV. Montel Williams was all about how people could have diseases and not even know it because they ignored all their symptoms. Montel had ignored his own MS symptoms for so long, he said. He wanted it to be something else. Montel was really smart, and he wasn't all conceited like Oprah. But Willie figured if he was ever in the studio audience, he would rather be on Oprah because her audience got really good gifts. Montel said the internet had all the information and you could look up symptoms and find out what you had. You have to educate yourself and not be a passive consumer who just waits to be told and sold, Montel said.

 

"Let's Make A Deal" came on and Willie turned the TV off. He smoked another cigarette and stared at the underpants. What had Montel just said? Look on the internet. Willie didn't have a computer. He wasn't too sure how you looked things up. But Leo talked about it sometimes – how he found things on the computers at the library. There was a library near the grocery store. Willie had walked past it lots of times. He could go there and look up what the blood meant. Then he'd know what to say to Leo. No wonder Leo was so cranky this morning; he was probably worried about himself.

 

The library wasn't silent like on TV; it was busy and noisy and crowded. Willie hadn't been in a library since he was a kid doing homework. There was a row of computers against one wall; a few people were working at them. Willie moved closer and watched them. He couldn’t see much except that they were typing. Willie couldn’t type with all his fingers. He sat down at an empty computer. The screen said, "Hit return to start." He hit return and a new screen asked him to choose a library. Willie didn't understand. He’d already chosen a library; he was sitting in it. He was stupid to think this was going to work. He sucked at fixing things. He slammed the desk in frustration and then pushed his chair back. A voice came close behind him, "Can I help you, sir?"

 

"I doubt it," Willie snapped. He looked up at his questioner, a tall fair-skinned black man with short, crisp hair, and a clean white shirt and black tie. Willie touched his bandanna self-consciously. He didn’t know you had to dress up for the library. He'd just braided his hair and wrapped it up this morning, because it was too long and he didn't feel like fussing with it. He wished he could cut it all short and start over. He shrugged. "Don't worry. I'm leaving."

 

The man waved a hand at the computer. "Did you need some help using the new catalog? It can be confusing at first."

 

Willie looked around but he didn't see any catalogs. "No?"

 

"Were you looking for something specific? Maybe I can help. I work here."

 

The man didn't seem angry. He seemed nice, actually. Willie cleared his throat. "Montel said, on TV?” The man nodded awareness of Montel. “He said you can look up medical stuff here. Like, symptoms and what they could be."

 

The man looked thoughtful but he only said, "OK. We have a book for that. It's over here, if you'll come with me." Willie followed the man out of the computer area and past a lot of bookcases to a smaller alcove of big books. The man seemed to know just what he was looking for. He took a thick book off one of the long shelves and handed it to Willie. "This should be a good starting place. Here." He led Willie to a table and gestured for him to put the book down. It was called Family Health Reference Book. The first page showed drawings of a naked woman and a naked man, with arrows pointing to various parts of their bodies. "You just look for the part of the body that has the symptom, and go to the page it says and look for the symptom, and then it tells you about it. See what you can find out. There's a copy machine over there if you find something useful, and I'll be at that desk if you need more information."

 

"Muchas gracias," Willie said. It was amazing that there was a book that said exactly what he wanted to know. He sat down and looked at the picture. The arrow from the guy's butt led him to an entire chapter on anal problems. Blood could be from all kinds of things. Leo could have hemorrhoids, or he could have cancer. He was going to have to talk to Leo, and probably make him see a doctor. But I can do that, Willie thought. I’m his husband. It’s my job.

 

*

 

It was raining and Willie hadn't brought an umbrella. He had too much on his mind. He shifted on the shabby vinyl seat and watched the hallway beside the elevators. He knew from waiting here before that the hallway led to the employee locker room, and that Leo would eventually emerge to this back lobby that led to the hospital parking lot. Willie had gone home and washed and changed into decent clothes and fixed his hair before coming here, though the braiding had put an unwanted wave into his ponytail. If he needed to talk to Leo, the best way to do that was to take him someplace calm and restful, like a nice restaurant, where they could relax and talk like responsible adults. Leo liked the whole responsible adult thing. Ambushing Leo with surprise dinner plans was a little pushy, but they'd seen each other so little lately that Willie was pretty sure he could talk Leo into it. Probably Leo would be relieved that Willie was stepping up. That's what husbands were supposed to do-- share their feelings and talk about problems and stuff like that. Willie pushed away the little voice in his head that said he was being stupid and faggy.

 

Willie jumped up the instant he saw Leo appear in the hallway, freshly showered and neatly dressed in jeans and a black turtleneck. Leo looked surprised to see him, but he didn’t look angry. He didn’t look happy either, Willie thought, but that's probably the stress. Leo was heading across the lobby towards him when someone yelled "Leo!" They both looked, and Willie started for Leo in case he needed assistance of any kind. A tan, blond man approached them. His mouth was bruised. Willie stepped in front of Leo. Leo stepped around Willie and said, "Oh my god. I'm so sorry. Oh god, Chris. Jesus, I'm an asshole."

 

Chris didn't smile, but he didn't frown either, and his voice sounded pleasant when he said, "Yeah, you kinda are." He held out a backpack, and Leo took it.

 

"Thank you, man. You're totally saving me. I totally appreciate it."

 

Chris rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Asshole."

 

Willie felt like his head was spinning, but he jumped in anyway. "Fuck you! Fuck off!"

 

Leo's hand fell heavy on his shoulder. "Willie! Shut up! He, um, he brought my backpack for me."

 

"He probably fuckin' stole it in the first place. I bet your wallet's gone. You better check, Leo. I'll watch him." Willie took another step towards the blond, who took a step sideways and slightly closer to Leo. Willie moved again to stand between them. Something wasn't right here. "Leo?"

 

Leo's hands squeezed both his shoulders. "Yeah, baby."

 

The blond was looking past Willie, staring at Leo. Willie spun suddenly and saw Leo staring back. "Leo, what's goin’ on?"

 

"Nothin', honey. He brought my backpack back."

 

Chris smiled. It looked grotesque on his swollen, bruised mouth. "I should get a reward."

 

"We don't have any money," Willie said quickly. He felt a little nauseous and he didn't want to think about why. "Leo, come on. We gotta go." He tugged on Leo's arm, turning his face away from the strange man.

 

Leo hugged Willie one-armed to his side, and kissed his cheek. "Honey, I gotta talk to Chris a minute. Can you go have a cigarette outside and wait for me? Is it too much of an emergency for that?"

 

"Is what?" Willie whispered.

 

"Whatever you're here for." Leo sounded very patient, like he was talking to an idiot.

 

"I can't wait here?" Willie's mouth felt frozen. It was hard to talk.

 

Leo rubbed Willie's arm. "I think he's got something personal to tell me, OK?"

 

"How come he has your backpack?"

 

Leo sighed, like he was running out of patience for idiots. "I guess he found it."

 

"I, I got, like, personal stuff," Willie whispered.

 

Chris's voice sounded loud in the nearly empty lobby. "Look, Leo, we can talk later. This is obviously a bad time."

 

Leo spun to look at him and took his hands off Willie. "No, man, wait. Just wait a second, please." He turned back to Willie and all his patience was gone. "I told you to wait outside. Why are you making a scene here?"

 

Willie didn't know what to say. Nothing he could think of sounded any good. "OK," he croaked. He walked slowly towards the automatic doors, hoping Leo would call him back. He heard Leo say, "Sorry about that, man. I didn't expect him to be here." The cool evening air felt good on his face as the doors swished shut behind him and he couldn't hear anymore. The rain had let up after all, and it looked like a beautiful night. Willie shuffled over to a bench near an ashtray and sat down and lit up. Maybe Leo had blood in his underpants because that tall blond guy fucked him too hard. Willie spread his legs and leaned over and puked between his feet. He wished he could stop picturing Leo under someone else, Leo being open and trusting with someone else, his Leo. It hurt his stomach so bad. He tried to think about something else, but there wasn’t anything else. Finally he smelled his own puke and opened his eyes and thought about that, and what bricks were made of, and why concrete sparkled in the streetlights or if that was just because his eyes were watering. After a minute he slid to the other end of the bench away from his mess. He relit his cigarette. It burned on his raw throat but he didn't care. It served him right for being such a fool.

 

*

 

"So that was him, huh?" Chris looked fascinated.

 

Leo shrugged. "Yeah. Sorry about that. Listen, thanks for bringing my stuff. And, um, I'm sorry about last night too. I'm sorry I hit you, and that I ran out. I freaked out a little."

 

"You freaked out a lot." Chris sounded very serious.

 

Leo didn't know what to say to that. "Yeah." He cleared his throat and felt embarrassed. "It, um, I'm outta practice with the casual sex thing."

 

"Did it feel casual to you?"

 

Leo looked down at the smooth lobby floor to avoid meeting Chris's eyes. "No. That's what I mean. I'm not too good at being casual now. I take shit too seriously."

 

Chris slipped two fingers under Leo's chin and raised his head. "It didn't feel casual to me either. I only talked about the sex with you because I want us to keep seeing each other and making each other feel good. If I wasn't serious, I would have just been polite and sent you home. I wanted you to stay the night. I had breakfast food ready to go."

 

Leo couldn't help the tiny smile on his face. "Yeah, with your clean sheets?"

 

"That's right. A boy like you deserves nice things."

 

Leo stepped back, but he wasn't really offended. He was more afraid Chris would kiss him and that Willie was watching from somewhere, like a jealous ninja ready to break out the knives. It wasn't right that Willie wouldn't just reliably do what he was told. Leo was pretty sure that if Chris kissed him, he'd kiss back, and that would be incriminating. Chris stepped forward with him, keeping his fingers on Leo's chin. Leo bent his head and slid his cheek against Chris's fingers, then stepped back again, and this time Chris let him go. "You forgive me for hittin' ya?"

 

"Don't ever do it again."

 

"No."

 

"Alright. You were under a lot of stress."

 

Leo felt himself smirking again. "Yeah."

 

"I'm serious. We have things to talk about. But now is not the time."

 

"No. I'm sorry. I didn't know he would be here."

 

"Call me over the weekend and we'll make a date."

 

"Alright." Leo's mouth felt dry.

 

"I'm not gonna call. If you don't call, I'll just figure you're not serious."

 

"Alright."

 

"Alright, Leo. Enjoy your evening."

 

"Thanks again."

 

"Glad to be of service."

 

*

 

Leo had expected Willie to be lurking right near the door, but he wasn't there. Leo peered around, annoyed, and finally saw the slight figure hunched up on a bench on the walkway leading to the sidewalk. At least the rain had stopped. Leo trudged up the walkway and stopped at the bench. It smelled bad over here. He headed for the other end of the bench to sit and Willie said, "Watch out where you're walking." Leo looked down and saw the puddle of puke punctuated with cigarette butts.

 

"Gross," Leo said. "C'mon, let's sit somewhere else."

 

Willie stood up. "Where?"

 

"Well, let's go somewhere quiet. You wanna come back in the lobby?"

 

Willie shrugged.

 

Leo shrugged back. "Closest bar is Clive's, but it's usually crowded and, like, Pat's probably there. Wanna go to Lyle's or Buddy's?"

 

Willie shook his head. "I don't wanna, I mean, maybe I can buy some beer and go home. You don't gotta come. You can catch up with your friend or whatever." He started walking for the subway.

 

Leo caught up with him and fell into step. "I thought you wanted to talk to me."

 

Willie looked at him once and looked away again. He was pale and red-eyed, like he'd been crying. He sounded calm though. "I did, but I figured it out on my own now."

 

"Figured what out?"

 

Willie shrugged. "Just stuff I was worrying about."

 

They went into the subway and through the turnstiles and down to the dank platform. Willie leaned against the grimy wall, his arms crossed, saying nothing. Leo had never seen him this subdued. He leaned against the wall next to Willie. "So how was your day?"

 

Willie closed his eyes. After a minute he said, "Long day. How about you?" His voice trailed off to a whisper.

 

"Me too." Leo forced a smile. "Hey, at least I got my backpack back, huh? It's the weirdest thing how he found it, you know? He was givin' me a ride to the library, but I had taken out the books I needed to return, so then that was all I carried into the library, and I left the bag in his car."

 

Willie stared at him. His eyes filled up with tears. After a minute he said, "Don't, Leo. Please."

 

"Don't what?" Leo felt like it was very important to be very literal and not try to read into anything.

 

Willie looked a little shaky. "I'm your friend, Leo."

 

"I don't know what you're talking about."

 

Willie put his face in his hands but before Leo could ask what was wrong the train came. Willie practically ran onto it. He sat down and pulled his hood up and closed his eyes, clearly not talking. He still wasn't talking when they got off the subway. He said "thanks" to the guy in the bodega where he bought a six-pack of Corona.

 

Upstairs in their apartment, Willie put his beer in the fridge and then disappeared into the bathroom for a long time. Leo looked in his backpack. He sort of hoped that Chris had put something in there, a note or something. But it was just his stuff. He wished he had settled things with Chris in the lobby and didn't have to call him to set up another date. Planning stuff in advance seemed too much -- well, it pretty much was cheating, but he liked it better when it just seemed to happen. He wondered if Chris wanted to go out on a date. He'd kind of sounded like he wanted to. What would be a good date?

 

"Do you want a beer?" Willie asked from the doorway.

 

"Sure, thanks."

 

Willie brought the beer into the living room and sat down next to Leo. He'd changed into a sweat suit. "Leo?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Can you hug me?"

 

"OK." Leo put his beer down and pulled Willie closer, wrapping his arms around him. Willie pressed tight against him. Leo was afraid to ask what was wrong, because he had a bad feeling about it.

 

After a minute, Willie pulled away and picked up his beer. "Thanks."

 

"No problem."

 

"Gimme your backpack."

 

"Why?"

 

"Gimme your backpack."

 

Leo handed over his backpack. Willie looked in it, frowning. "Are these clothes dirty?"

 

"Not dirty enough to be washed yet."

 

"Alright. I'm putting stuff in here for you. To make it better." Willie cleared his throat and put a vinyl zip pouch into Leo's backpack, then handed it back.

 

"What are you talking about?" Leo pulled out the vinyl pouch. It had Japanese cartoon characters on it. "What is it?" Willie looked away, clutching his beer. Leo unzipped the pouch. There were condoms and premoistened wipes and a tube of lube, not the kind they used. There were Tylenol and breath mints and a Metrocard and a fifty dollar bill. "Willie." Leo didn't know what to say. Willie put his empty beer bottle on the coffee table and slipped off the sofa and knelt quietly. "Willie?"

 

Willie stared at the coffee table. He cleared his throat, but his voice sounded scratchy anyway. "That's a better lube for you. It's more slippery. Make sure and use it. Use a lot. You shouldn't bleed." His voice caught and he stopped talking for a minute. Leo couldn't seem to shut his mouth; he just sat there gaping like an idiot. Willie took a deep gasping breath and said quietly, "If there's anything I can do to help." There were tears running down his face, but he just knelt there, his hands clasped behind his back. He’s submitting, Leo realized, submitting to my decision to cheat on him.

 

Leo reached out and stroked Willie's hair gently. "Sweetheart, it's not about you, you know."

 

Willie sobbed and jerked away from his touch. He staggered to his feet and ran for their bedroom, slamming the door behind him. Leo listened to the crying drifting down the hallway and looked at the queer little cartoon bag of sex supplies. If there's anything he could do to help? Help Leo with Chris? He didn't seem exactly OK with it. Leo felt exhausted suddenly. Chris had looked awful with his bruised mouth, and Leo felt guilty about that. Now Willie was crying. He should go comfort him, but it seemed impossible to stand up. You have to, he told himself. He's your husband. He pushed himself up off the couch and got some cool water in the kitchen, then shuffled numbly towards the bedroom.

 

Willie was curled up on his side of the bed. His shoulders were shaking, but the weepy noises had died down. Leo sat on his side of the bed and rubbed Willie’s back gently. “I brought you some water.”

 

"Thanks," Willie whispered. "I'm sorry. I got emotional."

 

Leo sighed. "It's an emotional situation. For everyone." Willie didn't say anything. Leo said, "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

 

"OK," Willie whispered. "We don't gotta talk about it."

 

"But I wanna explain to you."

 

"Explain what? I saw him." Willie's voice approached normal speaking volume, but it sounded like he was yelling.

 

"I don't know what to say to you!" Leo felt himself getting frustrated. Willie wasn't letting him fix things.

 

Willie turned over and looked at him. His eyes were all puffy and red from crying. "There's nothing to say, Leo." He turned his face back into the pillow and mumbled something.

 

"What? I can't hear you."

 

Willie moved his head a little. "Don't hear you saying you'll stop seeing him." There was a long silence. Finally Willie said, "I think I'm going to go to sleep now."

 

"I'm just tryna find out some stuff, Will. Stuff I need to know about, for myself."

 

Willie sat up and glared. "Leo! Shut the fuck up!"

 

"I'm tryna explain to you!"

 

"It's fucking bullshit!" Willie yelled. His shout echoed in the small apartment. Willie said, more quietly, "We don't lie to each other, Leo. Don't start now. I can't stand the bullshit. I'm not that much of a fool."

 

"You're not a fool," Leo said quietly.

 

"I'm a fucking idiot, and I'm going to sleep now."

 

Chapter 5

Sunday morning

 

Leo hoped it wasn't too early to call Chris. It was almost ten. Chris was a nursing student; they all got up early, didn't they? He was about to hang up on the ninth ring when a sleepy voice said, "Hullo?"

 

"Shit, I woke you up, didn't I?"

 

"Leo?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Hold on a minute."

 

There was mumbling and then Chris’s voice saying, "No, it's cool. Go back to sleep. Relax. I'll take ya to brunch." Chris was seeing other people! Leo felt like he'd been slapped. Maybe he should hang up. He took a big breath and held it for a minute, trying to calm down. There were sounds of walking and then some ceramic clinking and water pouring and Chris said, "Leo? You still there?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Good. Good morning. How are you?"

 

"Good. I'm good. How are you?"

 

"I'm fine." Chris sounded like he was smiling. At least, Leo hoped he was smiling and not laughing. "Are you calling to set up our date or just to chat?"

 

Leo wondered if Chris sounded condescending or if he was being paranoid. "Do you got time to date me, man? You seem really busy."

 

Chris chuckled. "Oh, you mean Ted. Are you mad that I see other people, Leo?"

 

"I didn't say I was mad. I just didn't know you did that."

 

"You do it."

 

"Not usually."

 

"You're living with the guy, aren't ya?"

 

Leo sighed. "I meant, I don't usually see more than one person."

 

"Oh, so I should feel really flattered, huh?"

 

Leo gritted his teeth. "Why you gotta twist my words, Chris? You asked me to call, so I'm callin'.

 

There was a silence before Chris said, "I'm sorry. You're right. I'm just, I'm - to be honest, I'm a little surprised you called. I'm thrilled, don't get me wrong, but I'm surprised."

 

"I said I would, man."

 

"Yeah, but your partner seemed really upset. Should I even ask how your weekend was?"

 

"Oh, a little, um, tense, but it'll be OK." Leo cleared his throat. "How was your weekend?"

 

"Oh, fine. I did some studying and went out with some friends last night."

 

"I thought you just moved here?"

 

"Three months ago."

 

Leo wished he could transfer some of that friends-making ability to Willie. He shook his head; he shouldn't even be thinking about Willie. Willie would be home from church soon and it would be good to be off the phone before he walked in and made his holy martyr face some more. "So, do you have any free nights this week?"

 

"Yeah, I got Thursday and Friday. You can have both or either."

 

"Lemme take Thursday and go from there, OK?"

 

"OK, Leo. It's a date."

 

"Excellent. See you then."

 

 

Two Weeks Later

 

"Peace be with you."

 

A hand entered Willie's peripheral vision and he looked up. He hadn't been paying attention to the Mass and was surprised they were up to the sign of peace already. He shook the hand and mumbled "Peace be with you" and then looked up at the owner of the hand and said, "Oh!" It was the man from the library. The man smiled at him. The couple in front of them kissed each other, and Willie thought about kissing the library man and blushed. He shouldn't think dirty things in church.

 

Father Don started the Our Father and Willie jumped when the library man grabbed his hand and held it while he said the prayer out loud. Willie stared down at the pew and whispered along with him. Then it was over and the man let go of his hand and moved closer. Willie frowned and pulled back a little. This was a little weird. The man frowned and asked, "Are you going to communion?" He wanted to get by. Willie smiled in relief that it wasn't anything weird. He shook his head and moved so the man could get past him. Then he knelt down to pray. He watched the man for a minute, standing in the long line of communicants. He was tall and handsome. And probably crazy, holding hands with strangers. Usually only families held hands and prayed. Willie supposed they weren't technically strangers because they had met at the library. Had he said his name? Willie didn't think they'd said their names. He'd waved when he'd left the library, but that had been it. He'd been in a hurry to talk to Leo and find out what his problem was.

 

He wished he didn't know again. He felt a little sick when he thought about it, though the relaxing feel of church was helping a little. For once he was glad that Leo didn’t come to church with him. Maybe this was why the church didn't let queers marry, because they were whores. Not that straight people didn't cheat. Lots of people cheat. Leo was an especially big cheat though. Willie reminded himself he was in church and made an effort to think nice thoughts. It's not like he was so perfect and never cheated. Well, he hadn't cheated on Leo, but he had on other people. It was just so infuriating because of Leo's big marriage bullshit thing. Why did they even have to be married if it didn't even mean anything? Willie looked at the claddagh ring on his finger. Leo didn't wear a ring. Of course, he didn't have a ring to give him. Leo hadn't said anything about leaving him or breaking up or anything like that. Maybe it was just an affair. Maybe it would be OK. Willie had already said three rosaries and lit a candle that it would be OK. He couldn't think of anything else to do about it.

 

There was a loud rumble as everyone stood and gathered up their stuff. Father Don was dismissing them. Willie sat in the pew and wondered if he should stay and pray some more or if he should go home and make Leo some lunch. There was the sound of throat-clearing next to him, and Willie looked to find library man was still there. Library man held his hand out. "Hi, we met in the library a few weeks ago. I'm Joe Mantleson."

 

Willie shook his hand again. They were long slender brown hands, smooth and cool. "I remember. Will. Gutierrez."

 

Joe smiled. "Glad to meet you. I usually go for coffee after Mass; would you care to join me?"

 

"Um," Willie hesitated. "I already prayed a real lot."

 

Joe smiled harder, like he was really amused. "No, no. Not prayer coffee. Coffee coffee. Maybe an omelet or bagel or something."

 

"Like brunch?"

 

Joe chuckled. Willie didn't know what was so funny about that. "Yeah, sure, we could have brunch. Would you like to join me for brunch, Will?" This didn't seem normal. It was almost like this guy was coming on to him, only in a super polite way. Joe shifted a little and looked away and said, "You probably have other plans."

 

"Coffee sounds good," Willie said hastily. It did. He didn't want to go home yet and watch Leo look guilty and impatient for his next stupid date.

 

Joe smiled broadly. His smile transformed his narrow, serious face so he looked mischievous and amused. Willie couldn’t help smiling back. He felt a little guilty. Joe said, "Let's go then," and they stood up and headed out of the dim church. There was no reason to feel guilty. Coffee wasn't like fucking, and apparently fucking wasn't even that bad of a thing. Leo could make his own lunch.

 

"My car's over here," Joe said.

 

"We gotta drive to get brunch?" Willie asked.

 

Joe stopped and looked at him. He looked so pleasant and patient. "I was thinking we would go to Ferona's. It's just five minutes in the car. I'll drive you home afterwards. Would you like to go somewhere else instead?"

 

Willie stared. Ferona's was a little bit fancy, for yuppie people. "I'm not dressed up," he said.

 

Joe smiled. "You look very nice."

 

Willie felt his face smiling. This was so weird. It was nice out here on the sidewalk. The sun had come out again, and the sky was blue, and it was a beautiful late Sunday morning. "Ferona's sounds great," he said. "Good idea."

 

 

It was an awesome brunch. There were shrimp cocktails and sausage omelets and mountains of bacon and puffy bread things and muffins and cakes and lots of juices. Willie thought it was like the heaven of brunches. They sat at the table with their piled-up plates on the thick white tablecloth and a waiter came to take their drink orders. Willie already had a giant cup of coffee, but Joe asked, "Do you want mimosas?"

 

Those were those champagne drinks, Willie remembered. He'd had them at that brunch with Leo, and gotten too relaxed and called him Papi in front of his friends. He shook his head no. "Early in the day for me."

 

Joe dismissed the waiter. "I think I've got enough coffee and juice too." He looked at Willie. "Do you always go to that Mass? I usually go Saturday afternoon after work."

 

Willie smiled. "I thought you always go to brunch after Mass?"

 

Joe smiled back. "You caught me. I made that up."

 

"Good idea, though," Willie smiled. He chewed a sausage thoughtfully. It was delicious. Joe seemed to be waiting for an answer. "I usually go to this one, yeah. When I go. I don't go all the time."

 

There was a little silence, then Joe waved his hand and asked, "I hope everything turned out OK with your medical situation?"

 

Willie frowned. He'd been such a fucking idiot. "Um, yeah. Everything's fine. It wasn't for me." He forced a smile. "Nice of you to ask though." He'd been stupid to come to brunch. They had nothing to say to each other. He took a bite of his omelet and tried to remember how it had been before, years ago, when socializing had been part of his job. He used to be able to talk to anybody. He'd never felt self-conscious working for Frank. He should at least try to make conversation. "So, have--"

 

"Did you--" Joe broke off and smiled. "You first."

 

"No, you go ahead." Willie gestured with his fork.

 

"OK. Did you grow up around here?"

 

Willie shook his head. "No. I grew up in Queens. How about you?"

 

"I grew up in Jersey. I moved here for my job."

 

"At the library?"

 

Joe nodded. "What do you do?"

 

Willie sipped his coffee. "I'm kind of between jobs." Joe frowned. Willie sighed. It wasn't like he was unemployed, technically. "Well, actually, I'm a housewife. I mean, I used to work retail, but I got fired, and my, um, my husband, um, he's busy studying and shit, and he wants me to stay home and do, like, chores, um, y'know, clean shit up and cook his dinner and shit, laundry." He felt himself blushing. He had no idea why he was explaining this to this guy. He couldn't possibly care.

 

Joe tilted his head a little, like someone listening very hard. "Your husband?"

 

Willie cleared his throat. "Yeah. Well, partner. Boyfriend. Uh, Dom. He's, we went to City Hall and got registered." He waved his ring. "I'd like to get a job now though." He put a hand over his mouth. Why was he talking so much?

 

"How long have you been married?"

 

Willie blinked. "Well, officially, like a month or so, but I been living with him for like three months and I known him for years before that." He drank more coffee. "We only been a couple for like six months though. He's an old friend." He took a deep breath. "Are you married?"

 

"No. I'm single."

 

His voice sounded funny, Willie thought. He pushed the plate of pastries towards Joe. "Sometimes single's better," he said. "Husbands can be assholes. Have a coffee roll."

 

"Is yours?"

 

"What?"

 

"An asshole. Your husband?"

 

Willie licked some frosting off a lemon Danish and thought about it. "At the moment, yeah. It's not, like, his main personality, but he's definitely going through a phase. I fuckin' hope it's just a phase."

 

Joe handed him a napkin and looked confused. "Wipe your chin. A phase?"

 

"He's cheating on me. Cuz he gotta find himself." Willie flapped his hands in the air like the big dodo bird that would say that.

 

"You don't believe that?"

 

Willie took a deep breath and wiped frosting off his chin. "You're not interested in my personal problems, I'm sure."

 

"Sure I am."

 

"You're not at work now. You don't gotta be nice. You can say what you want."

 

Joe looked fascinated. "What do you think I want to say?"

 

Willie shrugged. "I think you're good-looking and everything, but I'm, I'm, I don't wanna cheat on Leo. I know that's stupid cuz he's, he's--" He didn't know how to finish the sentence. If he cheated on Leo, that would make it worse. He didn't know how, but it would. "I'm sorry. I'll pay for brunch."

 

Joe sipped his coffee. "I invited you. I'm happy to pay. You can invite me to something and pay if you want."

 

"But, I just told you..." Willie frowned in confusion.

 

Joe put his coffee down. "You told me you're not looking for a boyfriend right now. You're in love with your husband but you're very upset with him. This is an emotional time for you. How's that? Accurate?"

 

"Yeah, I guess." Willie marveled at how sane it sounded coming out of Joe's elegant, expressive mouth. "But I don't want you to feel like you bought me brunch for nothing."

 

Joe gaped at him. After a minute, he said, "OK, what did you think I thought I would get for brunch?"

 

Willie frowned and tried to be generous. Joe was nice. "I, um." He wondered if he could blow Joe without getting freaked out. Or too turned on. "I don't know? What did you want?"

 

"I want to make friends with the other gay man in my parish?"

 

"OK," Willie said tentatively. "Just friends?"

 

Joe smiled his handsome smile. "Yeah. Let's see how that works."

 

Willie smiled back. "OK. So you work at the library all week?"

 

"Tuesday to Saturday."

 

"I can come by and we can have lunch and you can explain the computers to me."

 

Joe grinned. "You think you get that for lunch, huh? Just buy me lunch and you get full access to my brain?"

 

Willie snorted into his juice. "It's a hot brain, I bet. Dressed all slutty."

 

"Inside my head, it's naked."

 

Willie laughed. "Did you ever see that episode of Star Trek with Spock's brain in a bowl? That's gonna be you, cuz, like, Willie's got your brain hogtied on a dirty mattress!"

 

Joe laughed. "I'm not as brainiac as Spock. But I'm better with emotions. Do you like Star Trek?"

 

"Yeah, it's OK. I'm more into anime things."

 

"Really? Where do you get them around here? I can never find any."

 

The next time the waiter came by they were ready for mimosas and dessert crepes. It seemed like it was only fifteen minutes, but when Willie's phone rang and he saw the time, he realized he'd been at brunch for three hours. It was almost three o'clock. He sent the call to voicemail. It was only Leo and he didn't want to waste time being miserable while he was enjoying brunch. He could go home to Leo and be yelled at later. The phone rang again a minute later. Willie glared at it. "Maybe you better answer it," Joe said.

 

"It's not gonna be good."

 

"He might be worried."

 

Willie shrugged and flipped open his phone. "Hi."

 

"Where the fuck are you?"

 

"At Ferona's."

 

"With who?"

 

"A friend from church. What's up?"

 

"You didn't tell me you were going there."

 

"You were asleep. OK, I'm still at the table so I'm gonna go. See ya later."

 

"Well, when are you coming home?"

 

"Later. Not too late. Why? Are you going out?"

 

"No. What should I eat for lunch?"

 

"Whatever's there. I don't know."

 

"You didn't make me anything?"

 

"No, I didn't even know if you'd be home. I really gotta go, Leo."

 

"I want you to come home and cook for me."

 

"I'm not cooking today, Leo. Order out. I'm hanging up now."

 

"Don't you hang up on me, Willie, or you'll be sorry."

 

"You already made me sorry." Willie heard himself say this and wondered who had taken over his mouth. Joe was looking closely at the stand-up dessert menu on the table, like he couldn't hear a word.

 

After a second Leo said, "You wanna watch your tone of voice with me, Willie, unless you want me to come over there and drag you out."

 

It was on Willie's tongue and out of his mouth without even thinking. "Maybe you could have a cigarette and wait outside for me."

 

There was a long silence. Willie bit his tongue hard to keep from apologizing. Finally Leo said, "We can deal with this when you get home. Finish up your brunch and get moving."

 

Willie hung up the phone and finished his mimosa in one gulp. He looked around for a waiter so he could order more booze. Leo probably wouldn't spank him if he was really drunk. Maybe Leo would go out with his boyfriend and not spank him at all. His stomach turned over and he realized he'd almost rather be spanked, not that his preferences entered into it. He realized suddenly that Joe was staring at him. "What the fuck are you looking at?" he snarled. Joe frowned. Willie closed his eyes. He was such an asshole. "I'm sorry." He opened his eyes. "I gotta go. Lemme give you some money." He just wanted to go home now.

 

Joe had stopped frowning and looked curious again. "I thought we went over the payment thing. Or is this some kind of payment for biting my head off?"

 

Willie tried to smile at him. "I'm just sorry I wasn't better company. Y'know what? If you want, we can go back to your car and I'll blow ya." The frown came back. It was a sad frown, not like Leo's angry glares. Usually people didn't frown when he offered to blow them. "What?"

 

"What's with you, man? You wanna go home and tell your boyfriend you sucked some black dick like I'm some kinda payback for him pissing you off?"

 

Willie stared down at his empty plate, his face flushing. "No! I just offered. It ain't a color thing."

 

"You sat here an hour ago and told me how you didn't wanna cheat cuz you love him. I thought you were being straight with me."

 

"I was!"

 

"What, you stopped loving him in the past hour?"

 

Willie thought he was going to cry. That would be the last straw, bursting into tears at brunch. He had to get out of here. He grabbed his jacket and said, "Adios." It came out all choked. He slid out of the booth and headed for the exit, which looked very far away, but the room sped by in a sort of blurry skid and then he was safely out on the sidewalk. He walked around the building to an alley and rubbed his face on his sleeve, then lit a cigarette. It didn't matter if he cried on the sidewalk by himself. People would just look away. He felt better out in the fresh air anyway, and the cigarette helped. He had not stopped loving Leo. That was just stupid. He just hadn't wanted Joe to think he was a loser. Though probably he'd just proved he was a loser. No wonder he didn't have any friends. He looked around and tried to figure out which direction to walk home. A liquor store on the corner looked familiar, so he headed that way. He'd only been here with Leo once or twice. If he was honest, he was kind of relieved Joe hadn't taken him up on his offer, because it would have been weird. But it would have broken the spell, maybe. Leo obviously wasn't under a spell. Willie felt himself starting to cry again. Maybe it would be good for Leo to spank him, because he was always nice afterwards, and it would give him a decent reason to cry.

 

A horn honked repeatedly and then someone yelled, "Will!" Willie sighed and looked over at Joe, holding up traffic by keeping pace with him. Joe looked exasperated. "Get in the car!"

 

"I'm OK!"

 

"No you're not! Get in the car!"

 

Willie shrugged and kept walking. He didn't take orders from anyone but Leo. If Joe wanted to make a scene in the traffic, let him. He could feel people staring at him, mostly the angry motorists forced to a slow crawl behind Joe's car. Willie tried to stand up straight and not look embarrassed. He didn't care if horns honked at him all the way home; he couldn't stand any more discussion of his fucked-up-ness. He wasn't going to be treated like some naughty child, at least not till he got home. Willie frowned when a familiar figure appeared a block or so ahead of him. The man walking towards him looked just like Leo. Ten seconds later and that much closer, Willie realized it was Leo. He wondered if he should be scared, but his feet broke into a run, and then he was throwing his arms around Leo's neck, ignoring his confused face. "Papi," he sobbed. Leo's arms closed around his waist reassuringly. Willie wished Scottie could just beam them up.

 

"What the fuck is going on, Willie?"

 

"Nothing! I didn't do nothing!" Willie buried his face in Leo's neck. "Take me home!" The honking crescendoed and then turned into wailing and the sound of cars speeding by. Then stopped. A car door slammed.

 

Leo asked, "Who's this?"

 

"My friend from church," Willie said without looking.

 

"If he's your friend, how come he had to chase you down the street?"

 

"I don't wanna get in the car!" Willie felt Leo's hand rubbing his back and relaxed a little. Leo was listening to him, anyway. He didn't care if he got spanked now. Leo had come looking for him. That was the best thing that had happened in ages.

 

Joe's calm, friendly voice said, "Hello. I'm Joe Mantleson. I met Will at church. You must be Leo." He sounded more educated than Willie had noticed looking at his face.

 

Leo shifted his grip on Willie and shook hands. "Yeah, that's me." He nudged Willie's chin with his shoulder. "Stand up now, baby, c'mon." He rubbed Willie's back again. "Anyone wanna explain to me what's going on?"

 

"Nothing," Willie mumbled.

 

Leo looked at Joe. "That true?"

 

Joe raised his eyebrows. "I wouldn't dream of intruding on your little scene here. I stopped my car to offer you both a lift, but I'm not going to stand here and be interrogated."

 

Willie watched him walk back towards his car. So much for making friends with people or learning about the computers or having lunch with someone. "Papi?"

 

"Go ahead," Leo shrugged.

 

Willie caught up with Joe just as he opened his car door. "Joe?"

 

"What?"

 

"I'm sorry. I know I'm a fuck-up. I know. I'm sorry. I get upset. Not cuz of you. I didn't mean to be rude to you. I'm sorry. Can I get another chance?"

 

Joe's frown this time looked honestly confused. "Another chance for what?"

 

"To be friends?"

 

Joe looked at him for a long minute. "Leave me out of your love life drama queen productions?" Willie nodded. Joe nodded back. "Alright then. I'll see you at Mass next week. You can buy me coffee after."

 

"OK! I'll be there. We can get good coffee at Starbucks, too, not the crappy diner stuff!"

 

Joe smiled. "Alright. Bye now." He got in his car and waved, then drove off.

 

Willie waved at him, and then suddenly felt stupid and walked back to Leo. "Let's go home."

 

Leo turned around and they started walking. "What was all that?"

 

"We're going for coffee after church next week."

 

"Is that good?"

 

"Yeah." Willie looked at Leo and then at the sidewalk. "We're just friends. It's not a date."

 

Leo lit a cigarette. "Do you wish it was a date?"

 

Willie looked over at him and swallowed hard. "No," he said. "I wish I did wish it. Then I would understand more." He took a deep breath. "Can we talk about it later? After my punishment?"

After a few seconds, Leo said, "You deserve a punishment." His voice went up at the end a little, like he might not be too sure.

 

Willie nodded. "Yes. I was very rude when you called on the phone, Papi. I shouldn't talk to you like that. You didn't know where I was. You might have worried." His throat closed up on him. Would Leo have worried? Or did Leo just want his lunch? He wished Leo could have worried a little. Leo used to worry.

 

They walked another half a block and Leo said, "I might have missed you, Willie."

 

Willie swiped at his face with the bottom of his t-shirt and sniffed and spat out some snot on the sidewalk. Leo handed him some kleenex. Leo always had kleenex. They didn't say anything else the rest of the way home, but Leo walked really close to him so their arms brushed against each other.

 

*

 

Willie disappeared into the bathroom when they got home. Leo wondered how much coffee he'd had at brunch and if he'd want some more. Leo wanted tea for himself anyway. He put the kettle on and sat on the couch in the living room, flipping through TV. There was nothing on on Sunday afternoons except melodramatic movies about unbelievable relationships. Before Willie had moved in, sometimes they had watched TV together over the phone. Now they had two TVs, so sometimes they didn't even sit together, especially if Willie wanted to watch his telenovelas or whatever, women with too much makeup screaming and crying in Spanish. Leo flipped past golf and a host of shopping channels before giving up. Maybe they could watch some DVDs, though he dreaded the imposition of the Xena boxed set -- hours of that stupid show without even commercials to break up the stupidity.

 

There was a creak as Willie crept out of the bathroom and stood in the hallway. Leo looked up and was surprised he was naked. He stood up and Willie said, "I'll wait in the bedroom, papa." He scurried into the bedroom and shut the door. Leo sighed and turned the TV off, then went to the kitchen and turned the kettle off too. Willie was serious about the punishment. Leo swallowed hard and got a couple of bottles of water out of the fridge. It was totally stupid; Willie hadn't even done anything wrong. True, he was having a hard time with the Chris situation, but crying over something wasn't misbehavior. Maybe once he'd been with Chris for a while, Willie would chill out about it. He may not even be with Chris for long, seeing as how Chris was already with other people.

 

Willie was kneeling beside the bed with his hands behind his back. Leo sighed and sat down near him. Willie looked hot like that, even though Leo wasn’t in the mood for it. At first, Leo had been surprised at Willie’s submissiveness, but then he'd figured out that it was restful. It was Willie's way of switching off and letting Papa take care of him. Leo did want to take care of him, but not with the hairbrush and the -- Leo stared at the implements lined up on the bed. A belt. A wire hanger twisted into a beating stick. Leo thought longingly of Chris's spotless apartment and a chilled glass of wine and a decent DVD, some normal, good-natured cuddling. Chris said the sex was getting better, and he hadn't been as sore afterwards last time, though he still felt really embarrassed when Chris started, like he was a specimen on display.

 

Willie didn't seem to mind kneeling and displaying himself. He'd looked mortified in the street this afternoon with that guy honking and yelling at him and everyone staring. Why had all Willie's social skills abandoned him? Leo stroked his hair gently, and Willie tilted his head to prolong the caress. Leo reached around his head to gently undo his ponytail, then carefully spread out Willie's long black wavy hair. He buried his hands in Willie's hair and gently scratched at his scalp, making tiny circles. Willie swayed and sighed, his eyes closed. Leo sighed too. "Alright baby. Time for your punishment." Tears rolled down Willie's cheeks at once. Leo was amazed at the intensity. He hadn't even smacked him yet. "We'll start with you over my lap, please." Willie moved quickly to get across Leo's lap. Leo had never seen him so eager. He spanked firmly with his hand for a few minutes, till Willie's butt was pink and warm. Willie cried hard from the first smack but he held perfectly still. He kept on crying after Leo had stopped. Leo rubbed his back for a minute and then rubbed his behind as well. "What do you want next, Willie?"

 

"It's up to you, Papa," Willie gulped.

 

Leo kept rubbing. "Well, I'm not the one who laid out all those things to whack with. Who put those on the bed?"

 

"Me," Willie whispered.

 

"When do you get the hairbrush, honey?"

 

"If I'm bad."

 

Leo smacked him. "Are you bad?"

 

"Ow! If I have bad behavior!"

 

"Right. And when do you get the belt?"

 

"When you're really mad at me."

 

"Well, I think when you deserve a serious punishment. Do you think I'm ever gonna hit you with a wire hanger?"

 

"You should!"

 

"I think you'd change your mind on that pretty quick, hon."

 

Willie raised himself up on his elbows. "What, you think nobody ever did? You think you're my first one? You're not my first anything!" His voice was raw.

 

Leo smacked him again, stinging his hand. "Don't you raise your voice to me! I have all afternoon to punish you. I don't care if you sleep on your stomach all week."

 

"You don't care about me anyway!" Willie spat.

 

Leo felt his patience snap like an overstretched wire. He was so sick of proving it over and over; nobody ever babied him, not even Chris, not even when he cried. He wanted Judy, and then in the next breath he wanted his mother. He shoved Willie off his lap and staggered for the bathroom. He slammed the door and locked it and sat down on the dusty floor and cried. Willie yelled something but he blocked him out. He didn't need a beating; he could cry without Willie's help. He was gonna fail that certification test and be a fucking loser his whole life just working at bullshit jobs until he died. And there was no one to blame but himself.

 

He cried for a long time. He got a clean towel and buried his face in it and thought about every single thing that stressed him out. He cried about sarcastic remarks Pat had made three months ago. He cried about his mother. He cried about the sick children he saw at the hospital. He cried about the cat that had died when he was ten. He cried about the fear he saw in Willie's face sometimes when they made love. He cried about his whole family. He cried that Chris had hurt him and not tried to understand what he wanted. He cried for his father having walked out on him, just leaving him there. He should try and track him down. The towel prickled his face. Leo took a deep breath. He'd never cried so much when he was sober, not since he was a little kid. Except maybe that first time Willie had fucked him. "Made love," really -- Willie had been so careful. Leo got up and splashed water on his face. Could he have told Willie what he wanted? Willie was so fragile and fucked up.

 

There was a quiet knock on the door. Leo gulped some water from the tap. Willie said, "Leo. Make a noise so I know you're alive."

 

"You can hear the fuckin' water running," Leo said.

 

"Is that the water? I thought it might be your tears rushing down, you're crying so long." Leo stared at the bathroom door, amazed. That wasn't very compassionate, joking about his misery. Willie continued. "I made you a cup of tea but it's gonna get cold. Also, if you don't open the door pretty soon, I'm gonna have to pee in the kitchen sink, and your special college mug is in the sink, and I'm not taking it out first."

 

"Don't you piss in my coffee mug, Willie!" The tears threatened again, but Leo felt a little ridiculous.

 

"Well, open the door and I won't. We're gonna have to get a fancier apartment with an extra bathroom if you're gonna get all hysterical now." Leo felt outraged. Willie had like fifty crying jags for every one of his, and he still had the nerve to say something like that. Before he could say anything, Willie said, "Alright, I can't hold it any more, I'm gonna wet my pants if I don't go now."

 

Leo crossed the room and opened the door. "OK!" Willie darted into the room and rubbed his shoulder, then yanked his sweatpants down and pissed. At least he hadn't been lying. "I didn't say you could get dressed."

 

Willie rolled his eyes. "You didn't say a lot of things. Go get your tea. I'll be out in a minute."

 

"I'm fine now."

 

"Good. I'll still be out in a minute."

 

That was really weird, because Willie never dismissed him like that. But he did want his tea, and he didn't need to hang in the bathroom. Leo headed for the kitchen.

 

 

Willie said a quick prayer and finished pissing and pulled his pants up and washed his hands and thought as hard as he could. It wasn't right for Leo to cry like that. That needed fixed. Leo was supposed to be too smart to be so stupid. Leo had never run away from spanking him before; Leo pretty much liked spanking him. Willie shouldn't have yelled at him.

 

Leo was sitting at the kitchen table drinking his tea and staring out the window. It was getting late, but it stayed bright later in the day now that spring was here. Willie got a soda and sat down. His butt was a little sore, but in a good way; Leo hadn't hit very hard. Willie took a deep breath. "I think we need to talk, Leo."

 

"Yeah, I guess."

 

"It's not right for you to cry so much. That's not like you to be so sad."

 

"I know, Willie. I'm sorry."

 

Willie frowned. "Why are you sorry?"

 

Leo looked surprised. "I know you don't like it when I cry."

 

Willie frowned harder. "Of course I don't like it when you cry. I love you."

 

"No, I know, I mean, you get anxious."

 

"I get anxious to know what's wrong."

 

Leo looked at him. "It's no point talking if you're gonna bullshit."

 

Willie glared. "Same goes for you."

 

"You're saying when I start crying, you just worry why I'm unhappy?"

 

"What else would I worry about?"

 

"That I'm weak?"

 

Willie looked amazed. "You think it's weak to cry in your own house? With your, with me?" Leo didn't answer. Willie looked away. "You must think I'm a fuckin' weakling, then. I cry way more than you."

 

"Well, you just seem upset when I cry."

 

"Cuz you're crying!"

 

"Whatever." There was no point trying to explain it.

 

"What were you crying for, anyway?" Willie asked.

 

Leo shrugged. "Nothing. Everything." He stared out the window some more.

 

Willie sipped his soda and sounded words out in his head. "I didn't mean what I said, Leo. I know you care about me. I was, I, I wasn't submitted all the way." Leo turned to look at him. Willie stared down at the table, blushing. "In my feelings, I mean. I'm sorry." He snuck a look up. Leo was frowning in a confused way. Willie pushed away the idea that Leo might be dense.

 

"You didn't resist me," Leo said.

 

"No, my feelings," Willie repeated.

 

"Oh! You felt like resisting?"

 

Willie sighed. "No. I felt unaccepting."

 

Leo frowned harder. "I don't understand." He sounded a little whiny.

 

Willie sipped more soda and tried to think of a way to say it. "I have some bad feelings about--" he had to stop and swallow to say it -- "you and Chris. But, I'm, um, working on it, Papi. I'm sorry."

 

Leo reached across the table to pet his hand. "You feel unaccepting of me and Chris?" Willie nodded emphatically. "He's not unaccepting of you. He said I could bring you along sometime. We could have a three-way."

 

Willie wasn't sure whether Leo's smile was ironic or suggestive or what -- he just knew suddenly that he was gonna puke. He yanked his hand free and just made it to the sink before yakking up most of brunch. He felt disgusted by himself. He splashed some water on his face and tried to look out the window but all he could see were the child safety bars. It ought to be easy to escape out of here.

 

Chapter 6

Thursday night

 

Willie looked surprised to see him. Leo tried to make his smile reassuring. "What are you watching?"

 

"You're home early!" Willie pushed himself into a sitting position on the couch. "What's going on?"

 

Leo sat down and grabbed Willie's hand. "We're going on a date."

 

Willie's face lit up. "We are? Where, papi?"

 

Leo crossed the fingers of his other hand, for luck. "I'm gonna take you to Chris's with me, get us all acquainted."

 

Willie turned his face away, blinking and pressing his lips together. He slowly pulled his hand out of Leo's. "I don't wanna do that, Leo." His voice was very quiet.

 

"You're gonna do it for me, though, aren't you, baby?" Willie hunched over and covered his face. Leo rubbed his back and waited. "Get a grip and let's get ready. We gotta shower and stuff." He tugged gently on Willie's elbow and Willie let himself be led into the bathroom, but then he just stood there. "C'mon, hon, take your clothes off. I don't want to be late."

 

"Leo," Willie whispered.

 

Leo turned to him. He couldn't let this get too complicated or Willie would drag it out into a big thing. They'd talked about it on Sunday, and Willie had explained he didn't feel comfortable with a third person, but Leo had told him they were going to try it and that was it. He wasn't going to leave Willie alone with Chris; he'd be right there. He hoped Willie could show him what he was doing wrong, actually. He hugged Willie tightly and said, "Please don't freak out on me, Willie. I promise I'll be right there with you."

 

"I don't wanna do it!" Willie complained.

 

"You will when you get there. It's gonna be fun, Willie."

 

"What if I say no?" Willie whispered.

 

Leo sighed. "I'll be very disappointed."

 

Willie shivered and started unbuttoning his shirt. Leo got a prepackaged enema out of the bathroom cabinet and put it on the counter. "Use that too. Chris gets mad if you're not super clean."

 

Willie turned his back on him. He said tightly, "Go away now, Leo."

 

"OK, but we gotta leave--"

 

"I'll get ready. Just go away."

 

 

Willie tried to cry all his tears in the shower so he wouldn't have any later. He tried to turn his brain off. People did this all the time in the porn stories. They went into subspace and fucked donkeys just to please their masters. He wished he could be in subspace. It sounded like really good drugs. Probably Leo would give him a valium if he asked. Those subspace people trusted their masters, who watched them so carefully. Leo wasn't watching him; Leo was just trying to impress Chris. Fucking telling him about an enema, like he wasn't clean for Leo anyway. Why did Leo think the enemas were there? Angry wasn't helping with subspace. He wished he had a friend to call, but Leo was his friend, and Leo was the one doing it. He'd be too embarrassed to call anyone else, and what would he say anyway? My husband's making me be in a threesome with a handsome guy. No one would have pity on that. He just hated the idea of other people in bed with them. It didn't make him feel married at all. He finished with the enema and wondered how you got divorced from that city hall thing. It was probably just another form.

 

 

By the time Leo got through with his shower, Willie was ready to go. That is, he was dressed to go. His face was zombie-dead and when Leo reminded him to file his nails, Willie had simply stopped speaking. He did bite them a lot and they looked like crap, and Chris noticed that kind of thing. Leo had never really thought about it until Chris had taken him to get a manicure. It had been kind of nice sitting in the spa getting manicured; it was very relaxing. He hadn't told Willie about it because he'd thought Willie would laugh at him. Plus it was connected to Chris so that made it negative in Willie's eyes. Leo thought that was a little irrational. He wasn't serious about Chris like he was serious about Willie, or he wouldn't be bringing Willie over there. Willie was too cute and too hot to bring to someone you were serious about. Willie didn't look too cute at the moment, though. He looked vampire pale and red-eyed. He looked a little sick, actually, and the silent treatment was getting oppressive. Leo grabbed their sweatshirts and led him downstairs. Willie put sunglasses on even though it was getting dark out. He smoked a cigarette like he was trying to stab the smoke into his lungs. The car service came and Leo ushered him into it. Willie huddled against the opposite door staring out the window. The driver gave him odd looks.

 

At Chris's loft, Leo tried to be a little reassuring while they waited for the elevator. "It's gonna be OK, Will. You're gonna have fun."

 

"Lo odio, papi," Willie whispered. "Por favor, no quiero."

 

The elevator door opened and Leo stepped inside. Willie hesitated but stepped in after him and fell to his knees. "Willie, get up." Willie ignored him. Leo closed his eyes and tried to be cool. Willie was upset about this and not acting well, like at the wedding party. He grabbed Willie's arm and tried to tug him to his feet. "C'mon hon. Up you go." Willie pulled his arm free and remained kneeling, his face obstinate.

 

The elevator door opened. Chris's apartment door was ajar since he'd buzzed them in. Leo grabbed Willie's arm and practically dragged him out of the elevator. "Stand up, Willie." Willie sprawled facedown on the foyer carpet. Leo thought he might be crying. He could feel himself getting flustered. This was going to be a scene. He took a deep breath and crouched down. "If I think for one minute that you're tryna embarrass me, Willie, you'll be punished till Christmas. Now you get up off the floor and come and play nice." After a few seconds, Willie pushed himself to his feet, but he kept his head down and pulled away from Leo's embrace. Leo couldn't see his eyes behind the sunglasses. Willie didn't look as hot as usual with the sunglasses and the hunched shoulders and the asthmatic silence. His ass was still perfect though.

 

"There you are! Is everything OK?" Chris's voice was cheerful and happy, and Leo turned to him gladly.

 

"Yeah! Hi, Chris! We're just catching our breath."

 

"Well, come on in and sit down and catch it." Leo headed for the apartment door, tugging on Willie's twisting elbow to make sure he followed. "Um, this is Willie. I guess you sorta met before. Willie, you remember Chris?" Chris held out his hand and an arm, ready to embrace, but Willie sidled sideways to keep Leo between them.

 

"Hi, Willie," Chris said pleasantly.

 

Willie turned his face away and stuck his fingers into Leo's back pocket.

 

Leo smiled at Chris. "I guess we're a little nervous."

 

"There's nothing to be nervous about."

 

"I keep telling him that."

 

"Well, let's all take a breath and have a drink."

 

Chris brought three beers and put some kind of upbeat dance music on the excellent sound system, but not too loud. Leo loved it. It was like the beat matched his heartbeat and he was never sure if he was really hearing the music or not. Of course, he'd kind of damaged his hearing with years of loud rock music. He sat on the couch and put his arm around Willie, who remained tense.

 

Chris sat next to him and handed him his beer and kissed him hello, then lingered and kissed him again. Leo felt happy like he always did when Chris touched him. He kissed Chris back and took his arm from around Willie to tug on Chris's t-shirt, trying to pull it up. Chris snorted and nipped his tongue lightly, then pulled back, his eyes dancing. "You're all frisky," he smirked. "Let's see if we can cheer up your buddy."

 

Willie was chugging his beer, and he didn't stop when Chris leaned closer. Chris pulled back and glanced at Leo, then leaned against Leo's chest and let Willie finish his beer. Willie swallowed the last mouthful and took a deep breath, and then Chris moved again, crawling over Leo's legs and leaning in to kiss Willie. Willie yanked his head away. "No kissing," he said. "No."

 

Chris sat back a little and looked at Willie kindly. "Well, I hope you change your mind on that. You gonna take your sunglasses off in my house?"

 

"No."

 

"Willie--" Leo warned.

 

Chris gestured for him to be quiet. "Would you like another beer? Or something harder? Or something else? I've got some ecstasy and some other stuff."

 

"Don't give him drugs!" Leo said.

 

"Shut up, Leo," Chris said. "Stop managing him. He can speak for himself."

 

Leo told himself this was just a psychological ploy to settle Willie down and not disrespect of him.

 

Willie sighed. He reached up and took his sunglasses off. He'd been crying. "Leo can speak for me. He's my husband. I don't want nothing else. Let's just get it over with." He stood up. "Where do you want me?"

 

Chris grinned and stood up. He gestured at Leo. "Take your husband over to the bed, dude."

 

Leo tried to grin back, but his smile didn't feel right. He reminded himself this was going to be fun. He stood up and reached for Willie's hand, but Willie snatched his hand away and stomped past him towards the bed, his head down. Leo hurried after him. Willie stopped short when he reached the bed, so suddenly that Leo walked into him. Willie turned around and put his arms around Leo's waist. Leo could feel him shaking. Willie whispered into his ear, "You promised, Leo. You promised you wouldn't. Remember?"

 

Leo frowned. Willie sounded desperate. Chris came up behind Leo and wrapped his arms around the both of them. Chris's hands rested on Willie's shoulders. Willie shuddered and pressed harder against Leo, who felt a little suffocated. "OK, wait a minute," he said.

 

Chris grabbed his hair and turned his head and kissed him, grinding against his butt. After a second, Leo jerked his head away. Chris moved so he was standing beside them, an arm around each of them. "What's the matter?"

 

"Nothing, man. He just needs a little reassurance."

 

Chris ran his hand down Willie's back and rubbed his butt through his jeans. Willie shrank away with a whimper and hid his face in Leo's shoulder. Chris said, "Well, I can see why you spank him. He's got a great butt and he's kinda whiny."

 

Leo gritted his teeth. Saying things like that was not helpful. "You just need to be patient. He's--" he stopped. He'd been going to say Willie was the best lover he'd ever had, and so worth the trouble, but at the last second he realized that was a little insulting to Chris. In the next second he wondered why he was even with Chris if Willie was the best lover he'd ever had? Granted, Willie hadn't been so great lately, but he was sad lately, and that was why. Sad over Leo cheating on him. But I wouldn't know he was so great if I didn't experiment, Leo thought. But then I have no grounds for comparison and maybe Chris is really lousy, and that's why Willie seems so great. But then I'd have to see lots of guys to be sure. But I'm married to Willie so isn't it just as well that I think he's the best? Why would I want to disillusion myself? This was such a bad moment to try to think.

 

Chris moved around them to sit on the edge of the bed. He tugged on Willie's arm. "I'm totally patient. C'mon, sugar. Come sit with me."

 

Willie looked at Leo. His eyes were filled with tears. He let go of Leo's waist and said, rasping, "You're a fuckin' liar. Just like Diego." He swallowed hard, then turned to Chris and knelt on the floor. "I'm not your sugar. Spread your legs and get your dick out."

 

"Oh, don't be like that, babe. This is for fun. Come up on the bed with me. C'mon. Leo's here too. Get on the bed, Leo, don't just stand there with your mouth open."

 

Willie looked up at Leo. Chris did too. Leo stared down at their two faces, one so dear and one so handsome. Chris was smirking at how stupid he looked. Willie, though, Willie looked, well, sick and miserable. Willie broke eye contact and looked down at the floor. Just like Diego, he'd said. That wasn't fair. It wasn't pimping. Leo cleared his throat. "He's not paying me, Willie."

 

Willie glared. "Not in money," he hissed.

 

Probably they would both agree on his stupidity. They could bond over that. He had no idea what Willie was talking about. He just wanted Chris to be pleased with him. He felt himself blushing. Was that it? Was he trading Willie's peace of mind for Chris's approval? Why didn't Chris approve of him for himself? He flashed on how many times Chris had asked him to bring Willie over. He'd been kind of pushy about it. Leo cleared his throat. "Stand up, Willie." Willie practically jumped to his feet. Leo kissed his cheek. "Go sit over there on the couch and wait for me."

 

"Si, papi, muchas gracias." He dashed away from the bed.

 

"You're such a pussy," Chris said. "You're a bigger pussy than he is."

 

It wasn't the first time Chris had called him a pussy, but it felt like the first time Leo heard it. He said, "You think you're tough, huh?"

 

Chris shrugged. "What, he cries and shakes a little so you back off? How are you gonna find his limits that way?"

 

Leo frowned. "I'm not tryna find his limits."

 

"Why are you doing it then?"

 

"Doing what?"

 

"Keeping him as a sub?"

 

"I'm not. I mean, I am, but, that's not--"

 

Chris laughed. "You got no idea what you're doing."

 

Leo stared at the tanned face and the snapping blue eyes, the white perfect teeth. He made himself stop staring and looked around the room, taking a deep breath, trying to stay cool. Chris hated him to be uncool. He didn't know how to explain that he might not know what he was doing, but that's because he wasn't planning it out. Maybe Chris was. Maybe Chris was a manipulator. The divider-shielded bedroom was neat and clean without any of the laundry piles and random crap in their bedroom at home. They didn't have a video camera either. Leo frowned. Why was there a video camera on the bureau, pointing at the bed? How long had it been there? He walked around the bed and crossed to the bureau. Chris said, "Wait wait wait!"

 

Leo picked up the camera. It was on. He felt literally dizzy for a second. Then he felt steady again. Steady and furious. Chris was babbling, something about not overreacting. Leo could hardly hear him over the roaring in his ears. "Willie!" he yelled. "I need some help!" He blinked and Willie was right there. He held out the camera, blinking harder as tears started up for some reason. "It's on. It was on the bureau, pointing."

 

Willie frowned. "OK, Leo. OK. I got it." He flicked a switch on the camera and a light turned off. He touched another spot and the camera split open. Willie took out a computer disk and shut the camera. Then he looked around the room. He handed the camera back to Leo and jogged back to the couch area and the big flat screen TV. Willie opened the fancy wooden storage box on the shelf underneath the TV and rummaged through DVD boxes. He pulled out a couple of square paper envelopes and walked back to the bed. Leo thought of warning Chris but didn't. It had been a long time since he'd seen Willie look so purposeful. Willie jumped from just a step away and landed on top of Chris, knocking him back on the bed and straddling his chest. He pulled his switchblade out of his sneaker and held it to Chris's throat. He smirked into Chris's frightened face and said, "OK, sugar. I'm not all that fuckin' patient, so tell me or I'll cut ya. Where's the rest of the Leo discs?"

 

"You got 'em all."

 

Willie moved the knife a little and Chris whined. Willie spit in his face. "Don't fuckin' lie to me. I can tell. I bet you can tell too. Well, you tell me this. You look in my eyes and tell me if I'm lyin'. I would fuckin' love an excuse to rip your throat open and let you die right here where you disrespected him. See, am I lyin'? No. That's right. Now you tell me where you put the other Leo disc, right fuckin' now, or you'll be lookin' down at him from the ceiling while you float around like a ghost, watching me cut your dick off your body and stick it in your ugly mouth." There was a moment of silence and then in an entirely different voice Willie said, "Leo? Look in the nightstand."

 

Chris must have flicked his eyes in a direction. Willie was brilliant at that shit. The nightstand drawer held a portable DVD player. Leo pressed the button he thought would open the DVD drawer. Instead the screen filled with skin and his own voice crying that it hurts. The camera pulled back and there was his sobbing face, snot coming out his nose. Leo felt frozen in shame.

 

Willie's voice yelled, "Leo! Leonard Anthony Handler!"

 

Leo almost dropped the machine. "What!"

 

"Press the square for stop." Leo saw it and pressed. "Press where it says open." The drawer opened. Leo took the DVD out and put the machine on the bed. Willie stood up on the bed and jumped quickly to the floor beside Leo. He took the DVD away from Leo and said, "We're going now, come on." Leo followed him to the door. He didn't turn around to say goodbye or for one last look or anything. He didn't know where to look so he just looked at Willie's shoulderblades and followed them.

 

Outside, they walked for two blocks before Willie turned into a bar, with Leo right behind him. It was dark and smelly inside. A bunch of black guys were watching basketball. Some of them were flagrantly breaking the smoking law, lighting up right at the bar. Gentrification hadn't reached this block yet. Willie said, “Gimme your wallet.” Leo handed it over, and Willie took twenty dollars and handed it back. He pushed Leo towards a table. "Sit there." Willie walked up to the bar and waited. It took a long time for the bartender to bother to notice him. When he finally wandered towards Willie, Willie leaned forward, pushing his money ahead of him, and spoke earnestly for a minute. The bartender nodded, took the money, put two draft beers in front of Willie, and picked up the bar phone.

 

Willie brought the beers over to the table. "He's calling us a car service."

 

"That makes these ten dollar Budweisers?"

 

Willie looked at him, an eyebrow raised. "Do you have a complaint?"

 

"No." Leo sipped his beer.

 

 

"You're finished with Chris now." It wasn't really a question.

 

"Yes." Leo confirmed. "That's over."

 

Willie nodded and gulped his beer. He didn't look too happy.

 

The car pulled up a block from their apartment. "Why are we stopping here?" Leo asked.

 

"I wanna buy more beer. Pay the driver." Willie got out of the car and went inside the bodega. Leo paid the driver and hurried after him. He nodded at Kumar, who said, "How are you this evening, my friend?" Leo rolled his eyes. Willie's arms were loaded down with two six-packs of beer, three bags of chips, and two bags of cookies. He was craning his neck trying to read the ice cream flavors in the freezer case without bending over and dropping his chips.

 

Leo took the chips and the cookies. He decided not to say anything about comfort eating. "I'll get it. What flavor?"

 

"Caramel Sutra."

 

Leo frowned at it. "What's even in this?"

 

"What do you care? You're not getting any. Get your own if you want some."

 

"You oughta share. Keep ya from gettin' fat."

 

Willie bit his lip for a second. Then he burst out, "Maybe I will get fat. And then you can treat me even worse than you do. Cuz I'll be fat and ugly." He stomped to the counter and shoved his fattening treats at Kumar.

 

Kumar said, "You look very nice tonight, my friend."

 

Willie looked like he was going to cry. Kumar got very busy ringing in the snack foods. Leo added more chips and some Slim Jims to the pile and said, "I've got all this." Willie started for the door, but Leo called him back. "Hang on and carry something, alright?" Willie waited with ill grace and accepted a bag full of beer and chips. Leo followed him up the block and up the stairs to the kitchen. It was after eleven. Willie put the beer in the fridge. Leo sat down at the table. "Do you think we should talk?"

 

"I think you should go to bed," Willie said.

 

"You don't wanna talk about it?"

 

"Not tonight."

 

"You come to bed too?"

 

Willie shut the fridge and turned around. "I'm sleeping on the couch."

 

"No! Willie, come on!"

 

Willie shook his head. "I need space."

 

"Don't be like that! It's not good for our relationship!"

 

Willie's face darkened so much that Leo instinctively shrank back a little. But Willie's voice was very steady when he spoke. "Don't you talk to me about what's good for our relationship, you goddamn jackass. You were gonna serve me up to your asshole pornographer lover just to keep him interested in you. I hope your sorry ass is all over the internet already. Now I'm gonna get a night's sleep without anybody touching me or crowding me or lying to me about how much I mean to him. So leave me alone, Leo. I don't wanna talk to you any more tonight."

 

Leo felt like an ice pick had hit him between the eyes. "You think he put me on the internet?"

 

Willie laughed, but he didn't sound very amused. "That's the important thing, right? It's all about you, man." He headed for the bedroom. A few minutes later he returned, dressed in ratty sweats, carrying pillows, Tweety, clean sheets, and the good comforter. He stalked into the living room without a word, and the TV went on to some Spanish-speaking station. Willie came out to the kitchen for a beer and a bag of chips without so much as looking at Leo.

 

Leo followed him back to the living room and regarded the cocooning process. Willie curled up under the comforter on the sofa, munching chips and sipping his beer. He would end up sleeping on crumbs, Leo thought. Beats sleeping with crumbs, he chided himself. "Willie."

 

"Go away. I'm not talking to you."

 

"C'mon, Willie."

 

Willie put the chips down and picked up the clicker. The TV volume got louder.

 

"Not talking doesn't help anything."

 

Suddenly the comforter exploded and Willie stood on the couch, his face red, veins pulsing, fisted hands raised in front of him. "Leave me the fuck alone!" he screamed. "Shut up and leave me alone! What do I have to fuckin' do to make you just go the fuck away?" His voice was hoarse by the end he was screaming so loud, and when he stopped there was almost an echo.

 

Willie had never screamed at him like that before. Ever. He was still standing on the couch, his mouth working. Leo retreated without another word.

 

 

Leo wasn't sure what woke him up at first. It had been hard to get to sleep in the half-empty bed with just the thin blanket. He looked wearily at the clock. 4 am. He wondered how many sick days he had left from work. Someone was crying. It sounded familiar. It didn't sound like Willie though. Maybe a neighbor? Begging for someone to stop. Leo sat up. Should he check the neighbors? He didn't want to intrude on people, but that sounded pretty unhappy. Maybe it was just the TV. Maybe Willie couldn't sleep either. Maybe he'd be nicer now that he'd had a few hours to cool off. Leo put his robe on and headed down the hall to the living room.

 

It was him crying: him begging Chris to stop, his groaning face on the television, Chris's dick, Chris barking orders and him trying to follow them, Chris slapping his thigh and pulling his hair. Leo heard himself grunt in surprise. He dashed back to the bedroom, slammed the door and dove under the covers. He wished he could hide under the bed. The crying noises stopped. He could hear Willie moving around the apartment. Please don't let him come in here, he prayed. Please let this be a bad dream. The bedroom door creaked open. The bed shifted when Willie sat down. Willie pulled the covers down from over Leo's head, but Leo grabbed the edge of them hard. No more exposure tonight. Willie let go of the covers and petted what he could reach of Leo's hair.

 

"Leo."

 

"What?" God, he sounded snotty and awful. "I'm sorry." He would have given anything for Willie not to have seen those. It was worse than the whole Internet, really. Willie should never see him like that.

 

Willie's fingers brushed his forehead a little and then continued stroking his hair. "I was only looking to see what you liked so much." Willie's voice shook a little. "More than me." Leo didn't know what to say. Willie added, "I wasn't laughin' at you. Or, y'know, likin' it."

 

Leo groaned unhappily. "It's not very attractive," he muttered into the pillow.

 

Willie stopped touching him. His voice sounded more distant, like he'd turned away. "I know that's important to you. I'll go to the gym, OK?"

 

Leo picked his head up. "No! I didn't mean you!"

 

"Well, not then, maybe." Willie sighed. "It's almost morning. Go back to sleep."

 

Leo turned onto his back and looked up at Willie in the dimness. He pulled the covers back invitingly. "You too."

 

"My pillow's--"

 

"I'm your pillow. Lie down. Come on."

 

Willie hesitated, then leaned down and put his head on Leo's arm, his back to Leo's chest. Leo said, "Come on. Legs too. Take a nap." Willie sighed and brought his legs up onto the bed, letting Leo spoon behind him. Leo wrapped an arm around his waist.

 

"Your arm's gonna fall asleep."

 

"Yeah. We see that all the time at the hospital. People gotta get their arms amputated from that shit." Leo kissed the back of his head. He yelled, "Ow!" when Willie's elbow jammed into his gut.

 

"Don't laugh at me."

 

"No. Sorry. I meant, my arm's fine; you stay right there, sweetie." He was horrified when Willie started to cry. "What? Willie? What?"

 

Willie clutched his arm and whimpered. "That's the nicest thing you said, and it's just a fucking joke!"

 

Leo hugged him tight and tried to be very clear. "It's not a joke. You stay with me."

 

Willie sniffed. "Yeah?"

 

"Yes, honey. Please. Seriously."

 

"OK."

 

"Good. Rest now. We'll talk later."

 

"OK."

 

 

 

Chapter 7

Friday night/Saturday morning

 

1:00 AM. Willie turned the TV off and listened to the silence in the apartment. He'd thought Leo would come home after work. He checked his cellphone again, even though it hadn't rung all night. He felt like an idiot now for making the special supper. He’d had this stupid idea that if Leo came home and found him dressed all sexy with a delicious supper and a good submissive obedient attitude, Leo might not feel so bad about losing Chris. He wondered how much Leo blamed him for that.

 

After Leo had left for work, Willie had made himself watch all the DVDs again. Now they were sealed in an envelope for Leo to have. He'd tried to see what Leo wanted, when Leo smiled, what he asked for. It seemed like he wanted kindness, which made sense, because Leo was a kind top. On the sex DVDs, Leo always started out smiling, or at least happy. Then he would cry that it hurt, but Chris didn’t listen. If the camcorder dateline was right, Leo had gradually stopped bothering to complain; he'd just wept and waited it out. Once he'd mouthed "Willie," which made Willie cry. He shouldn't have given Leo lube and been so submissive. He should have made Leo stop being in such a bad relationship. Chris called Leo mean names: fag, and pussy, and bitch, and cocksucker. Leo tried to act like it was a joke. It was horrible to watch Leo being so needy, especially for someone else. I'm needy, though, Willie thought. I'm always needy. Help me, Leo, kiss me, Leo, give me my allowance, Leo, wipe my ass, Leo. Maybe he was horrible to watch too. The end of the last DVD showed Leo's face discovering the camera. He looked betrayed. Willie had seen that look before, and he'd never wanted to see it again.

 

Willie wondered for the hundredth time if he should pack some stuff and go away. But last night Leo had said he should stay. This morning he had definitely said "See you tonight." Willie thought again about calling, to see if Leo was OK. But he was probably just drinking somewhere and would hate to be disturbed by his -- whatever I am, Willie thought. He'd thought they were married, but then why did Leo suddenly have an affair like two minutes after the "marriage" he'd insisted on? It didn't make any sense. And how come I'm so faithful? Willie wondered. I never used to be. What was the big deal with the threesome? I used to like shit like that. Had all the bad jail shit ruined his sex drive? It didn't feel ruined when he was rolling around with Leo. Would he even be with Leo if it wasn't for the jail shit? It hurt his head to think about.

 

He went to the bathroom to get an aspirin and caught sight of himself in his ridiculous outfit, or lack thereof. Leo had liked the leather of those floggers so much; Willie could tell by the way he’d run his fingers over the leather. And Leo liked Willie's ass. So there was no reason he wouldn't like Willie's ass in tight leather shorts that had rawhide laces up the sides. They were hot and uncomfortable and embarrassing, but that was a small price to pay to make Leo happy. Willie had intended to wear them to dinner. But as it got later, he got colder, so he had his bathrobe on over them now. He didn’t have any shirts that went with these horrible fuckboy shorts. He didn’t think they were supposed to be worn with a shirt, which was bad because he didn't have six-pack abs like Leo and Chris. He wasn’t fat exactly, but he was soft. He had on his silver necklace and he’d combed his hair out all floaty like Leo liked. He'd even put on eyeliner and clear lip gloss like a club kid, but it had gotten all smeared. Now he looked tired, like some half-dressed freak in a ratty bathrobe.

 

Willie looked at the clock. It was almost 2. From 9 till 11 he'd thought about how Leo must be anxious too. Last night had been upsetting for both of them. From 11 till 12 he'd worried that Leo had gone to make up with Chris, but he didn't think Leo would be over the shock of the DVDs that quickly. From 12 till 12:30 he'd watched the news to see if there were any spectacular subway disasters that could have kept Leo from getting home. There were no accidents, which was a relief. Probably Leo was just drunk and forgot the time and forgot about their talk. Unless Willie had miscalculated. Maybe he should have packed up and left instead of spending $85 of his last $100 on horrible shorts that, the store was quite clear, could not be returned. He took three aspirin and drank two glasses of water. He was going to wait up. Leo was not going to come home and find him asleep. He cared about their relationship even if Leo didn't. He would just keep waiting.

 

Willie heard footsteps outside the apartment door at 2:38 am. He stayed on the couch. If Leo had brought company home, they didn't need to see him run out there in this outfit. The door opened and shut, and Leo walked inside. There were only his footsteps. The light switched on. Leo whispered, "Oh shit." That wasn't good. Willie shed his bathrobe and tiptoed far enough into the kitchen to see into the dining room. Leo stood staring at the table, which was still set for dinner. The flowers in the middle of the table were wilting. Leo rubbed his face. He looked guilty. Maybe he had been with Chris. Willie stepped backwards but a floorboard creaked and Leo looked up. "Will?" he called quietly.

 

"Yeah?" Willie stepped forward.

 

Leo frowned at him for a few seconds, then walked into the kitchen and hugged him. "I'm sorry I'm late. I didn't know you were cooking."

 

Willie kissed Leo's cheek. "It's OK. You can have it tomorrow. It's not spoiled."

 

"Good. That's good." Leo kept holding him. Leo's hands slid up and down his back, and then lower onto his butt and the leather and then below the leather where it didn't quite cover his whole butt. Leo's hands were hot, even through the leather. Leo trailed his thumb up and down from Willie’s hip, bumping over the rawhide laces against his skin. Willie shivered. "Um, how was your day, Will?"

 

"OK, good," Willie whispered. "I went shopping."

 

"I guess you did." Leo gave Willie's butt a little squeeze and stepped back from him, grabbing his hands. "Let me see." Willie stared down at the kitchen floor. He hadn't expected to feel so embarrassed. It was Leo, after all. Willie made himself look up and smile at Leo. Leo looked right into his eyes and squeezed his hands and said, "Seriously, you look really good."

 

"So do you," Willie said. His voice was so quiet tonight. Maybe he'd hurt his throat screaming.

 

Leo kissed his cheek. "Thanks, babe." He sat down at the kitchen table. "Listen, I know I missed my special dinner, but maybe I could get a bowl of cereal or something?"

 

Willie blushed harder. He should have offered him something when he came in. He was such a lousy submissive. "Sure, Leo. I'll get it. Do you want some tea?"

 

"Yeah, that'd be nice. Will you sit with me? Or were you watching TV or something?"

 

"No, I'll sit with you." Willie scurried around the kitchen getting cereal ready.

 

They sat at the kitchen table in silence, though not a horrible silence. Leo ate a bowl of cereal. Willie sipped a glass of milk and watched. Leo looked pretty normal, and not even especially drunk. Leo stood up to put the milk away. Willie shivered when the cold air from the refrigerator hit his back. Leo stood behind him and rubbed his shoulders. "Are you cold?" Leo asked. Willie shrugged. Leo's hands went away and then came back, sliding Leo's denim shirt around Willie's shoulders. "Put your arms in, come on, hon." The shirt didn’t match the shorts, but it felt warm on his back. Leo helped him navigate the sleeves and then kissed the top of his head. "Your hair smells great."

 

Willie grabbed Leo's hand and kissed his palm. "I'm sorry for yelling at you last night, Leo. And all my bad attitude."

 

Leo stroked his cheek. "Stand up, Willie." Willie stood. He spread his legs and started to bend over the kitchen table, but Leo grabbed his waist. He sat in Willie's chair and pulled Willie down to sit in his lap, holding him tightly. Willie put an arm around Leo's shoulders and hoped it wouldn't be a very babyish spanking, because he already felt stupid in these shorts. Leo kissed his shoulder. "I forgave you already. I'm more worried about you forgiving me."

 

Willie rubbed Leo's shoulder. He'd been furious at Leo for dragging him over there, mostly because he’d been frightened. Watching the DVDs had made him more sad than mad though. "Did you fix things with Chris? Do I gotta apologize to him?" Willie blurted.

 

Leo hugged him tight. "No, that's over." His voice sounded sad.

 

Willie hugged him back and kissed his hair. "I'm sorry, papi," he whispered.

 

Leo kissed his neck. "No. Don't be."

 

"We're still married, right, Leo?"

 

Leo pulled back, his face surprised. "Oh, honey." He hugged Willie close again. "Yes, angel."

 

Willie smiled against Leo's hair. 'Angel' was a new one. He leaned down and kissed Leo's mouth as angelically as he could. Leo kissed back politely before pulling away. "OK, Willie." He patted Willie's thigh. "Lemme get some more cereal, OK?" Willie frowned but stood up. Maybe Leo was really hungry.

 

By the time they headed to bed it was almost four. Willie heard an early bird chirping outside. He shut the window. He'd opened it earlier to air the room out when he was cleaning and changing the bed. He'd hoped to sweep Leo off his feet and right onto the new black satin sheets, but now he felt sheepish watching Leo look around the room. Moving the mirror so they could watch themselves fucking had seemed sexy to him, but maybe it was just tacky. The new dim little lamps were kind of useless, but they were nicer than the stupid nightlight, and they could leave just one on so he wouldn't be in the dark. He'd bought a thick soft throw rug for next to the bed, so he could kneel there better. The rug matched the new pale blue bedspread. The red roses on the nightstand were a cliché, but he didn't want anything but love flowers for Leo. Leo just stood there looking around. Willie took Leo's shirt off and hung it from the doorknob, then scurried past Leo to kneel in the lamplight by the flowers in his queer little shorts. Probably it wasn't as good without the fancy dinner, but it was all he had left. He looked down at the floor so he wouldn't catch sight of himself in the mirror.

 

Leo sat on the edge of the bed. "Willie." Willie looked up. "C'mon, hon, let's get to bed." He eyed Willie's shorts as he stood up. "Are those a bitch to get out of?"

 

"No. You just untie them." Willie jutted his hip at Leo and pointed at the rawhide bow.

 

Leo didn't reach for the bow. "Oh." He stood up and walked around Willie to take his wallet out of his pants and put it on his bureau. He took off his pants and folded them over the back of a chair. He took off his t-shirt and threw it at the laundry basket, followed by his socks. Then he walked past Willie again to get into bed. He didn't even mention the new sheets or any of Willie's improvements. He patted Willie's thigh, then lay down and turned onto his side with his back towards Willie and whispered, "I'm real tired. Good night, honey."

 

Willie's face burned in the dimness. Leo must have been being polite when he'd said he looked good. He must just look ugly and stupid. No I don't, he argued with himself. Leo loves me. Maybe I look silly, but he would still love me. He called me an angel. Willie walked around to his side of the bed. It felt good to take the shorts off. He slid under the covers and stared up at the ceiling. After a minute he turned his head to look at Leo. Leo turned over to face the other way. Willie closed his eyes and tried not to take it personally. Leo had gotten all involved with a dominant guy who treated him bad, and then he was sad when he lost him. Well, he didn't lose him; he'd dumped him when the guy was too mean and sneaky. He'd been pretty mean right along though, judging from the DVDs. Willie felt like some of those DVD scenes were burned into his brain. He fucked Leo sometimes, but it must not be the same. Otherwise, what would Leo get out of that miserable relationship that he would keep going back? It had been horrible to see Leo crying like that. And horrible in a different way to see him grinning and laughing at other things, like all Chris's mushy compliments. Willie had thought Leo didn't like those.

 

Willie turned onto his side and spooned behind Leo, wrapping an arm around his waist. Leo was tense and rigid, obviously not sleeping. He squirmed, but Willie tightened his grip a little. "I'm so tired," Leo repeated.

 

"I heard you," Willie said. He swallowed hard and hoped his voice came out right. "I want you to stop thinking about him and go to sleep, right now." It didn't sound whiny to him, but he hardly ever sounded whiny to himself. He only knew he was when Leo mocked him.

 

Leo whined, "I'm not thinking about anything! I just can't sleep!"

 

Willie stared at the back of Leo's head and thought as fast as he could. He hooked his thumb into the waistband of Leo's boxer-briefs and pulled them down on one side. "Well." He pinched Leo's butt gently and said, "Lift up now, cooperate, sweetheart. Your underwear's keeping you awake."

 

Leo snorted. "That's ridiculous."

 

"Keep your opinions to yourself. Just get these off." Leo lifted his hips long enough for Willie to drag his underpants off him. "You're too handsome to wear anything to bed." Willie threw the underpants towards the laundry hamper and snuggled closer to Leo. "Now, baby. I'm gonna help you get to sleep. You just let Bill help you."

 

Leo twisted his head sideways. "Bill?"

 

Willie propped himself up on his elbow and kissed Leo firmly. He said, "It's my name, Leonard."

 

"Willie!" Leo whined.

 

Willie pressed his hand over Leo's mouth. "OK, listen up. I'm not explaining this again, sweetheart. Right now, I'm Bill. I'm Bill, and I love you, and I'm taking care of you, cuz you're mine, you're my responsibility, you hear me, Leo?" He stared into Leo's wide eyes. Leo barely nodded. Willie smiled and took his hand away so he could kiss him some more. Then he licked his hand thoroughly and reached around to grab Leo's dick. He stroked carefully and talked quietly. "I know how to wear ya out, Leo." Leo grabbed Willie's wrist and Willie snarled in his ear. "No! Don't interfere. Put your hand behind your back, right now." They both froze. Willie added, "Do like I tell ya or I'll find another way to wear you out, mister." Leo let go of his wrist and slid his hand back, his fingers stiff against Willie's belly. Willie was relieved to be obeyed. Leo swelled in his hand, and his breathing roughened. Willie was getting turned on himself. He pressed tight against Leo's behind and heard him whimper. He kept his hand moving and felt Leo getting slicker against his fingers. He moved his mouth closer to Leo's ear and tried to sound strict. "Now I've had enough of this, this restlessness, Leo. Now in a minute, I'll say when, you're gonna come for me, and then you're gonna mellow the fuck out and go to sleep like a good boy. You understand?"

 

"Wha, what about you?" Leo whispered. His fingers scrabbled at Willie's belly.

 

Willie ground against him. "Don't worry about me. All you gotta do is come and sleep. Get it?" Leo nodded. "OK, come for me now, sweetheart." Willie moved his thumb with practiced certainty and Leo, reliably enough, groaned and stiffened in his arms before going limp. Willie was surprised at the tenderness that washed through him. He hadn't felt like that watching Leo be obedient on film. It seemed different in person though. He wiped his hand on a tissue. Leo murmured something. "What?"

 

"Night," Leo mumbled louder.

 

"Goodnight, baby. Sweet dreams," Willie said. He smoothed Leo's hair and snuggled close until Leo started snoring. Then he rolled onto his back and tried to figure out what exactly needed fixing.

 

Chapter 8

Saturday

 

Leo felt confused when he woke up. He closed his eyes again to see if the confusion lessened. Willie was holding him. His head was on Willie's chest and they were all wrapped together. Leo raised his head carefully. Willie looked exhausted even in his sleep. Last night's eyeliner had run into grey tear tracks sometime in the night. Leo hadn't expected him to be awake when he got in last night; he must have waited up. Leo extricated himself carefully. Willie woke up at the worst times sometimes. Thankfully, this time Willie just shifted and settled again, holding a pillow to his chest. There was no point thinking about last night. Leo needed to get over to Pat's and study. He should go right now. It was important to get ready for that exam. Leo grabbed his clothes off the floor and headed for the bathroom, speed-dialing as he went. It took Pat ten rings to pick up. "Hullo?" He sounded groggy.

 

"Pat! Hey, man. How you doin'?" Leo considered going back to the bedroom for clean underpants, but it wasn't worth the risk of waking Willie.

 

"Leo?" Pat sounded confused.

 

"Who else but your study buddy? We gotta hit those books, gotta pass that exam, time's flyin’ by on that. It's your place today, right?"

 

There was a moment's silence. "Do you know what time it is, Leo?"

 

"Early. Rise and shine."

 

"It's eight am."

 

Leo frowned. "Well, we got a lot to study. Tell ya what, I'll come over and I'll bring breakfast."

 

"What the fuck is wrong with you? I just left you like five hours ago."

 

"Well, don't come crying to me when you fail that exam, Pat."

 

"OK, you know what? Fuck you, Leo. I listened to you cry over your gay boyfriend and your gay husband for friggin' hours last night, not that it ain't fun searching the internet for your fucking missing sex tape, and my eyes may never be clean again some of the shit I had to check out. Now you think you're fooling me with this jovial shit? I need a fucking break. I don't wanna even hear from you till Monday, OK? Sort your shit out, man." The dial tone came on. Leo sat on the bathroom door and stared at his phone. The screen displayed "call ended."

 

The floorboards creaked behind him. Willie stood naked in the doorway, scratching his elbow. He looked sad and sleepy. His hair was a shaggy mess. "You goin' out, Leo? Want some breakfast?"

 

"Did I wake you up?"

 

Willie shook his head. "I got syrup for pancakes. Lemme get my robe." He rubbed his eyes and then smiled. "Unless you want the naked chef." He turned and walked back to the bedroom. His ass was adorable. Leo stood up and followed him. Willie leaned over to pick his bathrobe up off the floor and Leo started to say something about his ass but what came out of his mouth was a question. "Where's Bill?"

 

Willie froze for a second and then straightened up, holding his robe. Without turning around he asked, "You want Bill?" Leo tried to answer, but his tongue was stuck. If he said yes, what did that mean? Did he want Bill? Or did he just wanna know about Bill? Suddenly Bill turned around and made the decision for him. "What are you doing up so early, Leo?"

 

"Um."

 

"You were having a hard time sleeping last night. I wanted you to sleep in today. You need your rest, baby. Get those pants off and get back in the bed."

 

Leo shrugged. "I'm awake now. I may as well--"

 

Willie -- Bill? -- crossed the room to him in two steps and grabbed his wrist. "No, hon. I've decided you're going back to bed. No arguing now. I've got more than one cure for restlessness. Get these pants off."

 

"What about my pancakes?" Leo tried. He wasn't even sure why. He didn't even really want pancakes.

 

Willie smiled, but it wasn't a very nice smile. "What'd I just say about arguing? You behave if you want treats, young man." He reached confidently for Leo's jeans, unfastened them, and pulled them down to his hips. "No underwear?" Leo jumped in surprise when Willie smacked his butt. "Good boys wear underpants when they go out. Everyone will think you're a slut." Willie smacked his butt again, harder. "But you're only allowed to be a slut here in this apartment, Leo. You be my slut if you want to be slutty." Willie's voice sounded a little choked. Leo turned to look at him but Willie smacked him again and pushed him towards the bed. "You'll have a sore butt if you don't get it in the bed pretty fast, pretty boy."

 

 

Leo lay down. Willie dropped his bathrobe on the floor and climbed over him to lie beside him, grabbing his hand. "Go to sleep for awhile, then I'll cook."

 

Leo turned over and put his head on Willie's chest. After a minute, Willie's hand came up and stroked his hair. Leo wrapped an arm around Willie's waist and put his leg over Willie's. It felt good to lie together like this. He was startled when Willie sniffed. He raised his head. "What's wrong?"

 

"Nothing," Willie sniffled.

 

Leo moved up a little, so he could look at Willie's face. He looked OK. Leo put his head down again and tried hard to understand. "Is it happy crying?" He could hardly believe it.

 

Willie's fingers smoothed the nape of his neck, over and over. "I'm happy you're here with me."

 

Leo kissed his chest. "I'm happy I'm here with you too."

 

After a minute, Willie asked, "With Bill?"

 

Leo sighed and propped himself up on his elbow. "Is this a multiple personality situation?"

 

"Do you want it to be?" Willie looked very earnest.

 

Leo closed his eyes for a second and rested his forehead on Willie's arm. Then he looked at him again. "Willie?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Are you submitting to me by being more dominant to me?"

 

Willie frowned. "I could, if you want."

 

"Are you, though?"

 

"I'll do anything you want, Leo."

 

Leo bit his tongue. He hated when Willie said that, because he hated the part of himself that wanted to think up horrible tests. "Willie?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"I'll do anything you want, too."

 

There was a long silence. Willie lay perfectly still. "Anything?"

 

Leo took a deep breath. He considered ruling out piercings, but then, really, he didn't care. "Yeah, anything."

 

"Be faithful to me?" Willie whispered.

 

"Yes, of course, Will. Yes. I would anyway. That was a mistake."

 

Willie stroked his hair. "A bad mistake."

 

"I'm sorry, Will."

 

"Do you think it will get better?"

 

Leo propped himself up on his elbows. "What?"

 

"How we feel?"

 

"What do you mean?"

 

Willie closed his eyes. Finally he asked, "Do you feel different than before?"

 

Leo thought about it. "I feel like I was a fucking idiot."

 

"Me too," Willie whispered.

 

Leo frowned. "Why should you? You weren't. You weren't at all."

 

Willie's voice was creaky. "I didn't think you would do that. And then, I didn't know what to do." He pulled Leo down on top of him and buried his face against Leo's shoulder. "I don't want you to leave!"

 

Leo kissed his temple and made shushing noises. "I'm not leaving you, hon. Don't cry. I'm sorry I was an asshole."

 

"You're a fucking asshole!" Willie sobbed.

 

"I know. I'm sorry."

 

"Why didn't you tell me what you wanted? I would do it for you, Leo. I can dominate you better than that cuntface anyway."

 

Leo didn't know how to answer that. It hadn't crossed his mind to discuss it with Willie because Willie would get insecure. He was upset just asking about it. Leo rolled onto his back, keeping an arm around Willie. "That's not really what I wanted."

 

Willie sat up, shoving his arm away. "I saw the fucking DVDs, OK? Don't fucking lie to me. We don't gotta talk about it. I'm taking a shower."

 

Leo had to lunge to catch his wrist and yank him back to the bed. "Don't go! Don't go, Will. I wanna talk with you."

 

"You wanna lie to me. Some more."

 

"No, no, OK. I guess I meant I didn't know exactly what I wanted. I just, I wanted him."

 

Willie sat on the edge of the bed and looked down at his hands. "Cuz he's handsome."

 

"Yeah, and cuz I thought it would be different. I kept hoping it was gonna change and be more what I wanted."

 

"What? What did you want?"

 

"Like, to, like, relax. To not be in charge. To not have problems." Leo whispered. "But it was never like that. There were still problems." He put his hand over Willie's. "And I like being in charge of you. I just, I wanted to, like, experiment."

 

Willie took his hand back. "You didn't mind being in charge to drag me over there."

 

"I'm sorry for that. I told you already."

 

"Experiment with what? You been fucked before."

 

Leo covered his face with his hands. "I know. I'm sorry."

 

"What, then? Was there something he didn't film?"

 

Leo laughed unhappily. "No." He rubbed his eyes hard then let them fall to his chest. "It's not you, Willie. It's nothing about you."

 

"What?" Willie whined.

 

"Just, like, it sounds stupid now, but it was like, I just found out I was gay, y'know, with you. And then we got married so fast, so, like, you're the only guy I been with and I felt like, y'know, there was more stuff out there, and I was cut off from it."

 

Willie landed on him heavily and the impact of his fist knocked Leo's head sideways on the pillow. Then Willie was an inch from his face, red-faced and screaming, "You wanted to get married, motherfucker! You made me! You fucking cunt!" He sat back enough to yank off his ring and whip it at Leo's face. It glanced painfully off his front tooth and clattered to the floor. Leo belatedly put his hands up to protect his face, but Willie jumped off the bed and ran away. The bathroom door slammed shut, though it did little to muffle the wrenching sobbing and puking. Leo turned over carefully onto his side, nursing his sore mouth, and wept quietly into the pillow.

 

The sun shining in Leo's face woke him up. He blinked in confusion. How had he fallen asleep? How long had he slept? "Willie?" he called. No answer. He looked at the clock and sat up in shock. It was almost noon. Where the fuck was Willie? The bathroom door was still closed but there was no crying. Leo got up and ran to the door and banged on it. "Open up, man! Right now!" Leo listened to the silence and felt afraid. He ran to the bedroom and got his aluminum baseball bat. He slammed it as hard as he could into the bathroom door, by the doorknob. The cheap door started to break around the metal. There was still no sound from inside, and Leo started to panic. He punched the bat through the door, and the doorknob came loose. Leo tugged it out of the door and shoved his way into the bathroom.

 

Willie lay on his back on the floor in a puddle of blood, naked and still. His wrists were slashed. A bloody razor lay next to one pale hand.

 

Leo felt himself starting to puke but he spun on his heel and ran for his cellphone on the bedroom nightstand. He barely turned his head to puke while dialing 911 and running back to the bathroom. He grabbed towels from the rack and wound them around Willie's wrists, trying to apply pressure and handle the phone at the same time. So much blood. At least Willie was still breathing. Too slowly, but breathing. He looked so pale and small. His lips were white. Leo tried to concentrate on the voice on the phone, on explaining, on giving his address. They were sending an ambulance. It felt like only a second later that he heard the sirens, and then his doorbell. He looked down at himself, naked and bloody. He wrapped a towel around himself and ran for the door. "Up here, in the bathroom," he yelled down. Then he ran to the bedroom and scrambled into a sweat suit and grabbed his wallet and cellphone and keys. The EMTs walked into his bathroom and someone said, "Oh Christ."

 

"Hurry!" Leo screamed. "Get him downstairs. I put pressure on for awhile. He's breathing!" He opened Willie's wardrobe and grabbed underpants and sweatpants and a t-shirt. He threw them in his backpack with Willie's wallet. He ran down the stairs after the EMTs and the stretcher with the small bundle of all his love in the world.

 

Chapter 9

2 AM Sunday Morning

 

Everything was white. Willie tried to turn his head but it was too heavy. No clouds and angels. Just white. No agony. Well, his wrists hurt, but not really enough to be eternal hellfire. Maybe it was limbo. He tried to move his arm, to feel his wrist, but it was so heavy, all tied down. Definitely limbo. Or maybe purgatory. Where was his mama? He wanted his mama. She would meet him, she promised. She was stroking his hair, he could feel her. He closed his eyes again. She was there somewhere. He'd see her soon. There was no rush. He had forever.

 

5 AM Sunday Morning

Everything was still white, but now there were noises. Beeping sounds, some kind of announcement system, machinery. A hospital smell. Still no mama. A bag with a tube hanging over him, running into him. Breath going in and out of him. He was fucking alive. In a fucking hospital. He tried to cry but his throat was too dry and no noise came out. Was it all a dream? Was he still in the prison hospital? Something squeezed his heavy fingers, and then Leo was right there, stroking his hair like mama had. Leo kissed his forehead. His chin was all scratchy with whiskers. Cuz I bloodied up all the razors, ha ha, Willie thought. God, I'm crazy now. Shit, they'll think I'm crazy now. Oh fuck. He made his dry noise again, and Leo rubbed his cheek and said, "You thirsty?" Willie nodded as hard as he could, but it felt like he barely moved. The bed moved under him and Leo put a straw in his mouth. "Slow sips. You're dehydrated from losing all that blood. But don't rush. There's plenty of water. Slow sips." With his head raised, Willie could see his arms were strapped to boards and covered in bandages, with tubes going into them higher up. He looked sideways at Leo. What was Leo even doing here? He stopped sipping and Leo pulled the straw a little bit away. "That better?"

 

"Why are you here?" Willie rasped.

 

Leo looked surprised, but then he shocked Willie by smiling, like a Buddha. "Because you're here."

 

"Dumped you," Willie rasped.

 

"I know, baby," Leo crooned. "Don't worry. We're back together." Willie looked at him. Leo answered as if he'd spoken. "It'll be better than before. We're gonna fix it. Major improvements."

 

It felt like Leo was promising him something, but it was hard to follow. It was good to see him though. Willie felt himself drifting off and struggled to stay focused. Leo stroked his hair again. "No, it's alright. You sleep. I'll be here when you wake up, sweetheart. Everything's gonna be OK."

 

6 AM Sunday Morning

Leo let the phone ring a dozen times and finally Theresa picked up. "Who the fuck is it?" she growled.

 

"It's me, it's an emergency, and I need your help."

 

"Leo? What is it, honey?"

 

Leo suddenly felt tears threaten but he swallowed hard. "I'm at the hospital with Willie. There was, he slashed his wrists yesterday and I've been here since yesterday afternoon. Can you go to my apartment and get some stuff for me and bring it here? I don't wanna leave him."

 

"Oh my god! Of course, Leo. I'll go now. How's he doing? Is he OK?"

 

Leo had to swallow for another minute. "He's, yeah, he's OK. He'll--" his voice choked off. He cleared his throat. "He'll live. Thank God. Oh fuck. God. I gotta go. I'm callin' his priest."

 

"You sure that's a good idea? Gay boyfriend of suicidal guy? Not real pope-friendly."

 

"He goes there every week. It means something to him."

 

 

He had to call information to get the number of the church, and it was confusing to figure out where he was calling, but finally the phone was ringing. "St. Jude's," a harried voice said.

 

"Uh, is there a priest there named Don? Or Reverend Don?"

 

"I'm Father Don Wallberg. How can I help you?"

 

"I'm calling for one of your, um, audience? Parish members? Bill Gutierrez? Do you know him?"

 

"Bill... uh, I know a Will Gutierrez. Is he OK?"

 

"No. No, he's in the hospital. He tried to kill himself." The priest gasped, which Leo found positive. "No, he's, he's pulled through, but obviously he's having a hard time and church -- he's all into church so I thought maybe you could come see him?"

 

There was a pause. Then the priest said smoothly, "Of course I'll come. Of course. What's your name? Are you a relative?"

 

Leo braced himself. "No. I'm his partner. My name's Leo Handler."

 

There was a shorter pause and then, "You must be very upset, too. I'll come this afternoon, after lunch. I have to go say Mass now. I'll pray for you and Will and I'll see you this afternoon."

 

Leo thanked him and gave him the hospital information and hung up. He started to worry that he was making mistakes, but then he remembered his total understanding and stopped worrying. Because he'd found total understanding while he was sitting naked in Willie's blood on the bathroom floor, holding compresses on his wrists and listening for the ambulance. That's when he finally knew that he was really committed to Willie. Not just because of legal protections of domestic registration, or because it was good to be in a steady relationship, or even because Willie needed somebody. He was committed because Willie's breath was the most important thing in the world. Willie breathing was the meaning of the world, or at least the meaning of his world. There was nothing for him to trade up to or expand on or rise above. Willie was his heart and he had let his heart get broken and bloody for nothing, for lust, for some kind of competition in his head. Lying there in his comfortable bed telling Willie he was sorry. That wasn't sorry. This was sorry.

 

9 AM Sunday Morning

 

"Well of course you feel sorry. Why else do you think he did this incredibly manipulative thing?" Theresa sounded like he was an idiot.

 

"Because he thought he was losing me and didn't feel like he could be without me," Leo answered seriously, ignoring her tone of voice.

 

"What, is that what it said in the note?" Theresa sounded disbelieving, but also a little nosy.

 

"There was no note," Leo said. "If he was trying to manipulate me, he'd have written a note, and unlocked the door, and made some noise." There had been a message. Willie had scrawled on the floor in blood, a heart shape and a capital U. Leo had smeared them while he waited for the EMTs. It was a message just for him.

 

"Well, why did he do it then?"

 

Leo frowned. "We were having some problems in our marriage."

 

"What problems?" Theresa sounded way too interested. Suddenly Leo understood why Willie disliked her.

 

"Well, y'know, marital problems. It's actually kinda private."

 

Theresa looked puzzled. "Sure, Leo." She handed him a bag. "Here's the stuff you wanted."

 

"Thanks, babe." Leo hugged her tight. "I appreciate you coming. And the flowers are beautiful." They were, and it was nice of her to bring them.

 

"I can hang out if you want some company."

 

"No, I'm not much company myself and he'll be waking up at some point so I'll be busy with him. He's dehydrated."

 

"OK. Well, keep me posted."

 

"I'll call you this week."

 

They hugged again and she left. Leo couldn't believe he had ever gone out with her. He stole a water pitcher off a cart and went back to Willie's room and put the flowers in it. He saw Willie's eyes tracking him underneath his lashes and leaned down to kiss his cheek and rub his shoulder. "You dozing, baby? Theresa came by with some underwear and stuff for me, and she brought you these flowers."

 

"She'd rather put 'em on my grave," Willie croaked.

 

Leo sat on the edge of the bed. He put on his strictest Papa face. "You're not looking for that grave again, you hear me? You're staying alive with me. You're never doing this kind of thing again." Willie stared at him. Leo said, "You promise me now." Willie nodded. "That's my baby. I'll get you more water."

 

1 pm Sunday afternoon

Willie was relieved when Leo finally went to the cafeteria. Leo hadn't eaten anything since yesterday, which was probably why he yelled at the nurse about the pee bottle thing and how she better not touch his baby. Like the nurse gave a shit about his suicidal dick. Leo sounds crazier than me, Willie thought. We're two crazies in love. Thank god we can't breed. Leo just needs to eat. He gets all nuts when his blood sugar drops.

 

It was nice to just lie here and doze and not have anyone pacing and staring at him. Though he had to admit that was a normal reaction to idiots who slash their wrists. And what excuse did he have? His blood sugar was fine. His blood all ran out for a little walk in the park. His blood was set free. Willie wondered if any of the tubes running into him were filled with drugs. He thought maybe they’d given him some nice little trippy drug. Sometimes Leo talked to the hospital people. Willie wasn't sure if they were Leo's coworkers or if they were talking about his "case" and "social services" and "treatment plan." Service this, cocksuckers. Willie smiled to himself. There had to be drugs. He hadn't felt this good in -- well, he couldn't remember when he'd felt this good. Maybe before jail. Probably ten years ago he had felt this good. Almost this good. He just wanted to curl up and go to sleep, but he couldn't curl up because his arms were attached to all these tubes and boards and wrappers. He kicked in frustration and glared around.

 

Where was Leo? Why wasn't he there to fix his arms? He hovers all day and then the one time you need him for something, he's not there! Leo was always leaving him! He was tired of being alone in the house doing chores! He was tired of being alone in this room with horrible hospital smells! He couldn't even yell cuz his throat hurt too much. He tried kicking his feet some more but they were bundled up under the covers. It was too hot in here. He was calling a nurse. He tried to reach the call button. Where was the TV remote? Where was Leo?

 

"Will?"

 

"Help me!"

 

The voice came closer. "Will? It's Father Don."

 

Willie froze and wished he could straighten out the covers. He was wearing a stupid hospital gown. He was half naked and there was dirt and blood on him. "Um, um, hello, Father. How are you? I, um, I'm sick and I missed Mass. Oh, well, you, that's not why, did you come here to visit someone?"

 

"I came here to visit you." Father Don glanced at the bandages wrapped around Willie's wrists, then looked back at his face. "How are you feeling?"

 

Willie couldn't hide his hands under the covers without screwing up the tubes. "Um, alright. Did you see Joe?"

 

"I saw him this morning. He asked me if I'd seen you. I told him you were in the hospital."

 

Willie sighed. "Oh, good. I owe him coffee. I wasn't blowing him off."

 

"Uh-huh. Are you in pain, Will? You seem all twisted around there."

 

"I can’t reach the clicker, and I'm tired of lying on my back." Willie heard the whine in his voice and bit his lip hard.

 

"OK. Why don't I raise your head up a little more? That might help you get some leverage." Willie gasped when the bed started to move under him, but the priest put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, it won't fling you off." It was better sitting up a little. Father Don looked at his flowers while Willie straightened out his hospital gown. "Pretty flowers," the priest said.

 

"Leo's ex-girlfriend sent them to show him how she's better than me."

 

"I spoke with Leo on the phone. I don't think I've met him?"

 

"Did he call you?" Father Don nodded. Willie sighed. "I didn't tell him to. He's just worried."

 

"It sounds like he has a good reason. He said you tried to kill yourself, Will. Is that true?"

 

Willie nodded and looked down at his blankets. There was a long moment of silence. Finally Willie asked, "Are you gonna excommunicate me?"

 

Father Don sighed. "No. I came to hear your confession and bring you communion."

 

"I told you, I'm not confessing Leo! He's not bad!"

 

Father Don spoke soothingly. "Will, son, listen, now. I'm not talking about that. We've been over that. I'm talking about trying to take your own life, which is a grievous mortal sin. It's giving into despair and hopelessness, which we mustn't ever do, because God has a plan for us, and Jesus is with us, even when we're unhappy, Will. Thou shalt not kill applies to you too. You belong to God. He wants you to stay here."

 

Willie felt tears starting. "My mother wasn't there!"

 

Father Don started to hand him a kleenex, and then realized Willie couldn't reach his face. "Here, son," he dabbed at Willie's face with the kleenex. "She wasn't there because no one was expecting you there because it wasn't your time. She'll be there when the time comes; don't you worry about it."

 

"Leo's really scared."

 

"Well, you scared him. What about your commitment to him? You were just walking out on him too."

 

"He cheated on me!"

 

Father Don took a deep breath. "Does that make it OK for you to commit a mortal sin, Will?"

 

"No, Father."

 

"OK. Compose your thoughts and make your confession now."

 

Willie sighed. 'I can't bless myself."

 

"That's alright. Here, I'll bless you." Father Don pulled a white embroidered stole out of his bag and kissed it, then placed it around his neck. He traced a cross over Willie and spoke a few Latin words.

 

Willie held very still. "Thanks, Father."

 

"Go ahead now, start."

 

Willie sighed and closed his eyes. "Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It's been -- how long has it been?"

 

"Not too long. Go ahead."

 

"It's been awhile. I, um, I swore, and I missed Mass--"

 

"Will."

 

"I tried to kill myself." Willie felt suddenly that it had been a horrible thing to do. Leo must have found him and been terrified. He hadn't wanted to think about that. Had he? Was he that mad at Leo? "I was mean to Leo."

 

"And are you sorry for your sins?"

 

"Yes, Father."

 

"Do you resolve to sin no more?"

 

"Yes, Father."

 

"For your penance, you will say a rosary every day for ten days, and especially pray for gratitude and peace of mind, and for the repose of your mother's soul."

 

"Yes, Father."

 

"I'm going to absolve you now." Father Don said some more things in Latin and waved his hands over Willie. Then he said, "Your sins are forgiven. Peace be with you."

 

*

 

 

Leo bolted his lunch and rushed back to the hospital room, but he stopped short in the doorway at the sight of the priest. Willie looked serious and emotional. Leo backed up to the hallway so he wouldn’t intrude, but he couldn't take his eyes off of Willie. Finally he realized what the weirdness was. Willie looked like himself, instead of having his fake face that he used with people outside. Willie trusts his priest, Leo realized. It seemed weird, considering all the bad stuff you heard about priests. They looked like they were praying. Then the priest fed something to Willie. Communion, Leo realized Then the priest started rubbing stuff on Willie's face and hands. Leo wondered if he should intervene. But that was ridiculous -- intervene in what, in too much blessing and praying? It was just weird to watch some guy touching his boyfriend. Leo bit his lip. He was in no position to complain on that count. The priest took a scarf off his neck and then handed Willie a small plastic envelope. Willie needed help opening it. The priest pulled out a string of beads and waved his hand over it, then folded them into Willie's hand. Willie looked pleased, and awkwardly held his bound arm up to look at the beads. Looking over his arm, he caught sight of Leo in the hallway and called for him to come in.

 

"Leo! Did you eat? What did you have?"

 

"Soup and a sandwich. I brought you some candy." He tossed a Milky Way bar into Willie’s lap.

 

"Thanks. Did you meet Father Don?"

 

"We talked on the phone." Leo held his hand out. "Hello."

 

"Hello, Leo. It's nice to meet you."

 

"Lousy circumstances."

 

The priest looked surprised. "I'm glad the worst was averted."

 

Leo frowned. "Well, yeah." You couldn't say derrr to a priest, he supposed. "Thanks for coming. Willie seems real cheered up." That was true, anyway.

 

"Thanks for calling and letting me know. I don't suppose they'll keep him here much longer, but listen." He handed each of them a business card. "That's my cellphone number. Leo, if you think Will needs me again, you call that number. Or, of course, if you want to talk to me yourself." Before Leo could roll his eyes, the priest had turned to Willie. "And if you ever, ever feel so desperate again, you have to call me. You can call Leo, you can call me, you can call the Samaritans, put all these numbers in your cellphone. Promise me you'll put the numbers in your cellphone."

 

"I promise," Willie said earnestly.

 

"OK. I'll see you next Sunday then, if not sooner. Leo, it was nice to meet you." The priest left.

 

Leo looked at Willie's hand. "What's that, a rosary?"

 

"Yeah. He gave it to me. I gotta say one every day."

 

Leo didn't want to hear any more of the magic chanting plans. "OK. You want me to put it someplace you won't lose it?"

 

"No! I'm holding them."

 

"Alright."

 

"I can't find the TV remote."

 

Leo opened the drawer in the nightstand and handed the remote to Willie. Willie found the cartoon channel. Leo sat in the visitor's chair next to the bed and pretended to watch the TV. Mostly he snuck looks at Willie's blank face and wondered what was going on inside his head.

 

"Leo. Leo." Someone shook his shoulder. Leo felt confused, but only for a second. The hospital. Willie. All the blood. He opened his eyes. Dr. Feliway was standing there. "Leo."

 

Leo sat up straighter in the visitor's chair. "Oh! Oh, hi doctor. Sorry. I didn't think I'd fall asleep here."

 

"I'm sorry to wake you. You look beat. I was called down for a psych consult. It's not for you, is it?"

 

"Oh, no, for my partner." Leo nodded towards the bed. Willie was snoring a little.

 

"OK. How about you wake him up for me?"

 

Leo stepped over to the bed and stroked Willie's hair. "Will? Willie? Wake up, sweetheart."

 

Willie's deep green eyes fluttered open. He didn't do his usual flinch, but maybe it was all too strange to bother flinching. "What?"

 

"Wake up. You gotta see the doctor."

 

"I already did. How long do I gotta stay here?"

 

"I don't know yet."

 

"Can you untie my hands now?"

 

"I'll ask."

 

Feliway stepped around Leo and reached for Willie's hand. "Hi. I'm Dr. Feliway. Let me have a look at these." Willie looked away but he held his arms still while Feliway prodded at them. "You didn't know about slicing up and down instead of across?" Willie didn't answer him. Feliway looked at the hanging bags connected to the tubes, then walked to the foot of the bed and looked at Willie's chart. "Well, you've had your sedative, and the rest is just saline, but you look hydrated enough to me. I'll unhook you if you agree to drink plenty of liquids."

 

"He'll drink liquids," Leo said.

 

Feliway turned to Leo. "Listen, Leo, don't take this wrong, but I think it would be good if you went to the waiting area for a little while. I'll come get you when I'm through here." Leo hesitated. Feliway smiled. "Leo, you're concerned and you're talking for him. You're advocating for him. That's great. But I need to talk directly to him and hear what he has to say, not your spin on what he said to you, OK?"

 

Willie reached awkwardly for Leo, his arm small against the stabilizing board. "Don't leave me with him! I won't do it again!"

 

Leo squeezed Willie's hand. "Nothing bad is gonna happen, baby. He's a doctor; he just wants to talk to you."

 

"No! You stay!"

 

"Why? What is it, Will?"

 

"I don't know." Willie rubbed his arm against the covers fretfully. Leo berated himself. He should never, never have dragged Willie to Chris's.

 

Feliway interjected, "Leo, just go."

 

Leo turned and glared at him. "If you're gonna be impatient, we can find him another shrink."

 

Feliway shrugged. "Well, I'm the shrink on call, so if he wants out of here today, he'll deal with me."

 

Willie looked at Leo. Leo shrugged. Willie sighed. "Alright. I'll talk to you."

 

 

Willie watched Leo walk out the door. "Is he always that motherly to you?" Feliway asked.

 

Willie didn't want to talk about that. He wondered if Leo was still his papa. He didn't need a spanking or anything. He just wanted his papa. He wished they were home watching TV.

 

"You're not gonna answer me?" Feliway asked.

 

"Leo's good to me," Willie said.

 

"OK, so if you were to be sent home from the hospital, it would be OK for you to stay with Leo?"

 

"I live with him." Willie wondered if they were still married. Even if they weren't, Leo would probably give him some time to find another apartment, not just throw him out. "It's OK."

 

"OK, alright. And you feel safe there?" Willie shrugged and nodded. "I mean, you didn't hurt yourself because of anything about staying with Leo?"

 

Willie closed his eyes. "No. I was upset for emotional stuff."

 

"Uh-huh? Like what?"

 

"I just felt real bad."

 

"Well, will staying with Leo make you feel bad again?"

 

Willie opened his eyes. "What do I gotta say to get outta here?"

 

"I need some understanding of why you hurt yourself, so I can have a sense of how much risk you'll be under at home."

 

Willie closed his eyes again and clutched his rosary beads. "I won't do it again. I promised my priest. I was upset before." He felt like one of the women on Lifetime TV, explaining all her problems for the audience at home.

 

"You'll need to see a counselor regularly."

 

"OK."

 

"I'm writing a prescription for a mild anti-anxiety drug."

 

"OK."

 

"This is a serious thing. If we had more bed capacity, I'd keep you. You need to see the counselor. Don't talk yourself out of going. Don't minimize what happened. Get help. You need help."

 

Willie focused on the conditional. They didn't have room for him, or they would lock him up for being crazy. He bit his tongue and prayed hard not to be locked up. Even if he had to be Leo's bitch it was better than being locked up. The doctor scrawled something on his clipboard and then handed him a prescription. "I'm discharging you. I'll make you an appointment with a therapist and leave the appointment card at the nurses' station. Get it on your way out. I'll tell Leo you're getting ready to go home."

 

"Thank you," Willie whispered.

 

"Keep your counseling appointment." The doctor walked out. He seemed mad, Willie thought, but then a lot of in-charge people seemed mad.

 

He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and waited for Leo. Leo would have to get him some clothes to wear. Maybe he had some in his locker. As if summoned, Leo appeared, crossing the room to ruffle his hair. Willie leaned away from him. "Can you get me some clothes, Leo?"

 

"I brought your sweats." Leo was already untying the back of the hospital gown. "Let's take you in the bathroom and sponge you off a little, huh?"

 

"No! I just wanna go!" Willie snapped. "I don't care if my clothes get dirty!"

 

"OK, alright." Leo started to pull the hospital gown off of him, but Willie grabbed it and pulled away, clutching the fabric to his chest. Leo took a step back, biting his lip and blinking. After a few seconds he said, "OK, it's OK, Willie." He stepped over to his backpack on the visitor's chair, opened it, and removed Willie's clean, folded clothes. He lay them on the bed within Willie's reach, and put Willie's wallet on top of them. "I'll just be over there." He tilted his head at the other bed in the room, which was empty at the moment. "Just yell if you need me." Then he stepped back and pulled the white curtain all the way around Willie's bed.

 

Willie stared in surprise at the curtain. He wished it had been there the whole day. It was like being in his own little room. It's just a curtain, he reminded himself. He missed having his own room. He missed his own apartment. He missed being himself. He didn't want to go back to the horrible apartment where everything was sad. He didn't have anyplace else to go, and anyway, that's where Leo would be. Willie grabbed a tissue off the nightstand and wiped his eyes. He eased his bandaged arms through the t-shirt’s sleeves and then yanked it over his head, struggled into the underpants and sweatpants. It felt a little better to be dressed. He put his wallet in one pocket and his rosary in the other. "I don't got any shoes," he said at the curtain.

 

"Oh, fuck. Hold on, I got flip-flops in my locker, I'll go get 'em."

 

Flip-flops sounded OK. It wasn't too cold out, he didn't think. He didn't really know. "Oh, OK, thanks," he said belatedly, but Leo didn't answer him. Maybe he'd already left the room. Willie sat cross-legged on the bed and pulled out his rosary. He said three prayers. He wondered if you had to say them all at once for it to count, or if you could work on it throughout the day. He would have to ask Father Don.

 

There were footsteps and then Leo's hand, sliding the flip-flops under the curtain, reaching far in to place them on the floor. Leo's head was outlined against the white curtain, like a ghost. Like I would have been for him, Willie thought. He reached out and pulled the curtain aside, glad to see Leo alive. Leo stared at him, still holding the flip-flops. "Thank you," Willie whispered.

 

Leo knelt on the floor and held out his hand. "Gimme your foot, honey." Willie stuck his legs out, and Leo slid the flip-flops over his toes.

 

Willie thought they must look stupid. "I guess I'm your princess," he tried to joke.

Leo looked up and rubbed Willie's knees. "You're my prince, Willie. You're my happily ever after." Willie tried not to cry but he couldn't help it. Only Leo would think anything happy about him. Leo stood up and hugged him, then rubbed his shoulders while Willie cried against his stomach. "That's good," Leo said. "You're doing good. I love you." Willie managed to move himself into quieter sniffling and looked up at Leo, who handed him a kleenex. Willie kept hugging him, so Leo held the kleenex to his nose. "Blow, baby." He wiped Willie's nose and then his eyes and threw the tissue away. "Can I take you home now, Willie?" Willie nodded. "Good. Come on."

 

*

 

The apartment seemed too quiet. The bed seemed too big. Leo seemed too overwhelming. Willie leaned back against the many pillows. His eyes kept getting stuck on the bandages. He didn't remember too much of what happened after he fell on the floor. He remembered his mother on the floor, and all the blood. He’d been terrified. He'd screamed for her to wake up. Had Leo screamed at him? At least his mother hadn't done it to herself like a little bitch. He didn't understand why he was so upset. He hadn't wanted to get married in the first place, so what difference did it make if Leo said bad shit about their marriage? Now they weren't married anymore, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Leo kept walking down the hallway and then retreating to the kitchen without making it to the bedroom. It was making Willie tired. When he heard the sneaky footsteps again he yelled, "Leo!"

 

Leo appeared in the doorway. "Hey, can I get you something?"

 

"What are you doing out there?"

 

"Nothing. You called me."

 

Willie closed his eyes. "OK. I'm sorry."

 

"For what?"

 

"For yelling?" Willie cleared his throat. "Y'know, I think I'll start dinner." He pushed the covers off.

 

Leo walked into the room. "No. You rest. I'll cook." Willie looked up at him. Was he in trouble? Leo pulled the covers back up over him and smoothed the sheets against his legs. Leo cleared his throat, then asked, "What do you want to eat?"

 

"I don't know."

 

"Probably you should have something light."

 

"I'm not sick."

 

"You were hurt."

 

"I'm OK. I can cook."

 

"No. I'm gonna make you some soup. It won't take long." Leo stared at him for a few seconds before adding, "Did you say your rosary for today yet?" Willie rolled his eyes. "I just meant you could work on that while you wait," Leo protested.

 

Willie pushed the covers down. "The doctor didn't say I had to stay in bed. You can cook if you want to so bad, but I'm gonna get up for awhile. I'm sick of lying down."

 

"OK. Maybe there's something good on TV. Or there's your Xena DVDs."

 

Willie didn't say anything, because Leo was just saying stupid things now. Leo was talking to him like he was an idiot. Willie supposed he might look a little idiotic trying to kill himself. It was hard now to recapture the feeling. It seemed like the Chris thing was still over, or at least Leo hadn't run off to be with Chris. Leo hadn't really said anything about anything. In the living room, Willie flopped on the sofa and wondered if he'd really slashed his wrists just to see if Leo gave a shit about him. He thought it was more because he couldn't live without Leo, but Leo had brought him home from the hospital again like they were still together, so maybe he didn't have to live without Leo. Willie threw the remote back on the couch and dragged himself to his feet. He felt weak, which he supposed made sense. He walked out to the kitchen and watched Leo frowning at a can of chicken noodle soup. "Leo?"

 

Leo's head snapped up. "What? Are you OK?"

 

Willie shivered. Was he? "Yeah, I, Leo?"

 

Leo put the can down and crossed the kitchen. He put his hands on Willie's shoulders and looked into his face. "Back to the sofa, honey. You're shaky."

 

"I, Leo."

 

"I know. You're alright. You're just worn out. It's a lot to go through. You sit down and rest." Leo spoke softly and pushed him gently back into the living room and onto the sofa.

 

Willie sat again. "Leo?"

 

Leo sat on the arm of the sofa. "What?"

 

"Um, I can still stay here, right?"

 

Leo slid down to sit beside him. He put an arm around Willie's waist. It felt good. Leo said, "Yes. What are you talking about?"

 

"It's different now?"

 

Leo took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "What is?"

 

"I don't know?"

 

"Do you want something to be different?"

 

Willie did. He wanted Leo to love him harder so he wouldn't fall off the edge again. He wished their marriage had been different. Probably Leo did too, because he hadn't offered him his ring back again. It was a bad luck ring anyway, from someone who had walked out. "Yeah, I guess," he whispered.

 

"What do you want, Will?" Leo asked quietly.

 

"I wanna stay with you."

 

"OK, well, good, cuz I want that too." Willie sighed. Leo petted his hair gently. "Well, I'm glad we agree about that. I'm gonna go finish making your soup now. Maybe we'll try and eat at the table tonight since it's nice to be home again, OK?" Willie nodded. "Alright. You rest here and I'll come get you in a minute."

 

"I can watch."

 

"Watch what? You want me to put something on?"

 

"Watch you. Watch you cook."

 

"You wanna come in the kitchen and wait there?" Willie nodded. Leo looked puzzled but he stood up and reached for Willie's hand. "Alright. Come on."

 

Leo put the soup down in front of him, along with some warm fresh rolls and butter. It looked delicious. Willie realized he hadn't eaten anything in a long time. It tasted warm and a little salty and very calming. Leo slurped when he ate soup. They didn't talk. It didn't feel bad though. Not too bad, anyway. Willie wondered what Leo really thought. That he was a big pain in the ass, probably. He cleared his throat and Leo looked up expectantly. Willie took a deep breath and said, "I'm sorry, Leo. For doing that. Making all that trouble."

 

Leo looked away, chewing. He swallowed and then looked straight ahead. "You're sorry you tried to kill yourself?"

 

"Yeah," Willie whispered, nodding. "I apologize."

 

Leo looked right at him. "You promise not to do it again?"

 

Willie nodded solemnly. "I promise."

 

Leo got up and cleared the table, stacking the dishes carefully in the sink. Then he turned around and leaned against the sink. He crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, I forgive you, then."

 

Chapter 10

 

"Well, I forgive you, then."

 

Willie's lips moved. Then he stood up and headed for the bathroom. The door slammed, and then slammed again, and Leo knew that was because he'd removed the lock from the door. He really didn't care if Willie didn't like it. He'd considered taking the door right off, and just hanging a curtain for privacy, but that might be hard on guests. Now the door could be shut but not locked. He'd thrown out all the razors and bought two rechargeable electric shavers. Willie hadn't seemed to miss the sharp kitchen knives yet, but Leo was pretty sure he'd be pissed off about that too. Leo didn't care about that either. He would do any chopping and slicing and dicing that needed doing, at least until Willie seemed to be on firmer ground. Leo didn't like all this vagueness and confusion. He ran hot water over the dishes and watched the suds build up. He supposed they needed to talk about it. He didn't even know where to start. Maybe he would start by convincing Willie to take a bath. Willie hadn’t washed or changed that sweat suit for three days and he was getting a little ripe.

 

Leo washed the dishes and reminded himself that it wasn't his fault. Normal people don't attempt suicide over infidelity. Willie has other issues. Leo didn't make people want to kill themselves. Though apparently he made people who wanted to die want to die faster. It made Leo’s chest hurt to think that Willie wanted to die, that there was nothing in his life worth living for. Leo finished the dishes and splashed water on his face. Willie had been in the bathroom for awhile now so he went to check, squelching the dread.

 

The bathroom door was closed, and so was the bedroom door across the hall. Leo opened the bathroom door and peered in. No Willie, and no ominous signs. When there was no answer to his knock, he opened the bedroom door and peered inside. Willie was curled up like a toadstool in the center of the bed, under the covers. Leo sat on the edge of the bed and pulled the covers down far enough to expose the top of Willie's head. "Are you OK, Will?" Willie nodded, or at least his head moved. "Could you use some words, please?"

 

"Yeah," Willie whispered unconvincingly.

 

"So you want some dessert?"

 

"No, thanks."

 

"You wanna watch TV with me?"

 

Willie's head tilted back and he peered out from under greasy tangled hair. "That's all?"

 

"What?"

 

"We'll just watch TV?"

 

"What else you wanna do?" Leo asked.

 

After a minute, Willie whispered, "Nothing."

 

Leo reminded himself not to push. Willie sighed plaintively, and Leo kicked his shoes off and shoved at Willie's butt. "Move over, c'mon, you're hogging the whole bed."

 

Willie flinched away. "It's too early for bed."

 

Leo lifted the covers and slid in next to him. "You're in bed."

 

"I'm sick."

 

"You said you weren't, remember? Anyway, there's no rule against going to bed early." He spooned himself around Willie's back, his arm on Willie's side, his hand loosely on Willie's t-shirted shoulder.

 

Willie held absolutely still, his body tight with tension. "Do you still wanna fuck me?" Willie's voice was a rasp.

 

Leo's stomach lurched. He swallowed hard before he answered. "Yeah, course I do. I'm in love with you, Willie." He stared at the back of Willie's motionless head. He let go of Willie and turned onto his back. The silence felt like a chasm between them, a few inches wide and a couple of miles deep. Leo closed his eyes. It seemed so important not to say the wrong thing. "I know I screwed up, but I still love you. More than anyone."

 

Leo felt his heart sinking when another eternity passed without any sign that Willie had heard him. Then the raspy voice came again. "You still wanna be together?"

 

"Yes! God, Willie, I thought we were. Don't you want that?"

 

Willie seemed to straighten out a little on the bed, and he pushed the covers down a little, but he kept his back turned. "I thought we broke up. Before."

 

Leo sighed. "You said that, yeah. You were mad. I don't blame you. But I thought you were just mad. Cuz you just ran off like you were mad. I thought, y'know, you didn't leave the house." He swallowed hard. "I didn't know you were, what you were, tryin'--" He couldn't even say it. "I woulda gone after ya. I thought you were just mad." He felt tears starting and tried to stop, because he wasn't the weak one here. They couldn't afford two weak people in this bed. He closed his eyes.

 

"You really fooled me with that marriage shit, man. I was totally buyin' it," Willie's voice shook a little. "I felt stupid."

 

Leo opened his eyes. "You're not stupid! I'm stupid!"

 

Willie half-turned onto his back. "Stupid for gettin’ stuck with me. You said so. You wanna go spread the gay love. Well, you can. I'm not gonna stop you, Leo. I'm not your jail." Before Leo could even think what to say to that, Willie sat up and turned to look at him. "Maybe I'm not good enough for ya, but I'm not gonna be a bad thing, Leo. I'm not gonna hold you back and wreck your life cuz you think you owe me. You don't owe me nothin'. I'm not mad at you no more, OK?" Leo stared. Willie turned away and scratched his head. He seemed calm, but Leo thought that might be a bad sign. Willie swung his legs off the bed and stood up. "I'm gonna go watch TV for awhile."

 

Leo moved closer and sat up. He put his feet on the floor but remained seated. "No. We're not done talking. Come here, please."

 

"I got nothing else to say, Leo."

 

"Well, you can listen. I asked you to come here. Don't make me get up."

 

Willie rolled his eyes but he came closer. Leo grabbed his wrist and pulled him down towards his lap. Willie squirmed away. "I don't wanna sit in your fucking lap!"

 

Leo stared at him. "What if I told you to blow me?"

 

Willie flushed and froze for a few seconds, then shrugged. "OK." He knelt and put shaking hands on Leo's knees.

 

Leo took his hands and held them. "So no argument on a blowjob, but you can't let me hold you?" A tear slid down Willie's cheek. Leo slid off the bed and onto the floor, pulling Willie into his arms. "Do you still love me, Willie?"

 

Willie nodded against his shoulder. "Si."

 

"Good. Now listen. I wanna explain. Will you listen?" Willie nodded again. "OK. All that shit I said about being tied down and held back? I was talking about my dick. That's all it was. It wasn't about how much I love you, or about our relationship, or about our future. I was just makin’ excuses for the bad things I did. And the reason was, cuz I only listened to my dick. Haven't you ever done something stupid like that?"

 

"I guess," Willie said.

 

"I don't wanna lose you cuz of that. I'm in love with you, Will. I didn't love him. I couldn't get comfortable with him."

 

Willie shrugged politely. Leo wished he had never lied about anything. "Please, Willie. I know I fucked up and hurt you, and I'm sorry, I apologize, but please find a way we can stay married. I need you. Please don't leave me."

 

"You don't need me. I can't--" Willie sighed and clung to him.

 

Leo rubbed his back. "You can't forgive me?" he whispered.

 

Willie sat back and looked at him, surprised. "No! I forgave you already!"

 

Leo kissed his cheek. "Thank you. Thank you, baby."

 

Willie shrugged away from his kisses. "I can't make you happy. I don't got nothing else, Leo. If it wasn't enough for your dick, like you say, then, I don't know how else, I mean, I already did everything I know."

 

Leo wished he had psychic powers so he could make Willie understand him. He did his best to sound convincing. "It wasn't because of you. It was just some random turn-on I felt from that guy. You already make me happy. That's why I wanna be with you. You don't gotta change nothing about yourself." Willie shivered in his arms and sniffled. Leo pulled him close again and stroked his greasy hair. "Do you miss your papa, baby?" Willie nodded and sniffled again. "Why don't you lemme be your papa for awhile, huh?"

 

"Cuz it's stupid," Willie said foggily.

 

Leo sighed. "I could try and do a better job this time." Willie turned his head and rested it on Leo's shoulder. Leo tried to sound calm and certain instead of desperately hopeful. "I know it's hard to trust me now, but can you gimme another chance?"

 

Willie took his hand and interlaced their fingers. "Who - did you find me?"

 

Leo took a deep breath. He didn't like to think about it. "Yeah."

 

"Did I say anything?"

 

Leo swallowed. "No. You were unconscious."

 

"It's clean in there."

 

Leo rubbed Willie's back. "Yeah. It got cleaned up."

 

"You cleaned it?"

 

Leo reminded himself that he didn't want to lie. He spoke very carefully. "I stayed right by you in the ambulance and the hospital. I stayed right in your room. After you were out of surgery, and you were in your room, I called Theresa and asked her to bring me some stuff -- a change of clothes and some snacks -- cuz she has a key. That's what she was bringing when she came with the flowers, remember?" Willie nodded on his shoulder. Leo continued, "When we came home, the blood was all cleaned up. So I guess she cleaned it, to be nice, so it wouldn't be there when we came home. I didn't ask her to. I woulda done it myself later."

 

After a minute, Willie said, "The door is different."

 

"Yeah. I had to break the old one to get inside. I found this one in the basement. There were a bunch of 'em. I just wiped it down. I still gotta paint it."

 

"You broke it?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Like, you kicked it in?"

 

"I smashed it with the bat."

 

"Oh." Willie let go of Leo's hand and scratched his own leg. "It didn't have a lock?"

 

"I took the lock out."

 

"I don't like that."

 

"I don't like breaking down a door cuz I'm scared you're dead."

 

"Why were you scared?"

 

"What?"

 

"Well, I would just be dead. I wasn't, like, a zombie or nothin'. Nothin' to be scared of."

 

Leo hugged him tightly. "I was scared you had left me for good." He stroked Willie's hair. "You know?"

 

Willie nodded. "I'd die if you left me."

 

"I'm not leaving you." Willie sighed and slid an arm around Leo's waist. Leo kissed his neck and grinned with relief. "Are you leaving me?"

 

"No, papa," Willie whispered. "I'm staying."

 

"OK, good. I'm glad, honey."

 

Chapter 11

 

Wednesday

Willie tasted the tomato sauce and added more basil. He looked longingly at the red pepper flakes, but he'd already put in some, and Leo would complain if it was too hot. It was pretty good anyway. Not quite good enough for shells, though. Spaghetti would be good enough. He gave the sauce another stir, then opened the refrigerator to see if there was fresh spaghetti. Otherwise it would have to be dried pasta, which wasn't as good.

 

At the sound of a key in the lock, Willie's stomach turned over. He shut the fridge door and sat down on a kitchen chair. The door opened and hit the chain, and Leo said "fuck" quietly but sincerely. Willie frowned. Leo hadn't fucked him after all. Not then, and not since. "Willie!" Leo called. He sounded impatient. "Will!"

 

"What?" Willie asked loudly.

 

There was a long silence. Then Leo said, "Open the door, please."

 

Willie thought about it. It seemed wrong to lock Leo out of his own apartment. And anyway, it was easy to break a chain, and then it would be a bigger thing. He stood up and crossed to the door. "You have to shut the door first," he reminded Leo. Leo breathed out in a hiss through his teeth, but the door shut, and Willie took the chain off. Then he opened the door. "Hi."

 

Leo was looking at him funny. "Hi. What are you doing here?"

 

Willie frowned. "I live here."

 

"I mean, what are you doing here now?"

 

"Oh, I'm cooking. What are you doing home so early? Do you think it's worth it to go buy fresh pasta?"

 

Leo sat down heavily on a kitchen chair. He yanked a water bottle from his backpack and swigged from it. "Yes, Will. It is worth it. You can pick up some fresh pasta on your way back from your doctor's appointment. You missed the appointment, but she's rescheduled it for you, and you have time to head over there now. So turn your -- what is that? Sauce?"

 

"The kind you like."

 

"Good. Thanks, hon. Turn that off, and head over to the doctor's. Do you want me to come with you? I will if you want."

 

"No, thanks, hon. I decided not to go." Willie started to stir the sauce again. His hand shook a little bit but if he focused hard on it, it stopped.

 

He didn't even hear Leo get up, but suddenly he was yanked away from the stove and up against something warm and hard, which turned out to be Leo. The spoon was snatched out of his hand. Leo slammed a lid on top of the pot of sauce and wrenched the stove dial to turn the fire off. Willie was still admiring his speed when he was whirled around and backed into the refrigerator. Leo's face loomed close and he started scolding. His breath was minty. He's always clean, Willie thought idly. He always smells nice. Except when he's drunk, which he hasn't been in a long time. He wondered why Leo didn't go out drinking so much anymore. Maybe he was studying too much. Willie wondered how much longer till that whole studying thing was over. He didn't see books around as much, he didn't think. It was hard to tell, the house was so tidy lately. "Answer me!" Leo bellowed.

 

Willie jumped. He hadn't really been listening. He could pretty much guess what Leo had said though. "I don't need to go there!" he said firmly, though it didn't sound as firm out loud as it did in his head.

 

Leo put a hand on his throat and Willie froze. Then he saw Leo taking his belt off and felt a wave of anxiety. "No! No, Leo! I'll go! Don't hit me!"

 

Leo didn't hesitate. He hooked a chair closer with his toe and sat down, then tugged Willie down over his knee. Willie kicked and screamed, but Leo's doubled over belt snapped down on the seat of his jeans a dozen times. It stung even through the denim. Leo had no right to do this to him anymore! He wasn't the only bad one around here now! He thrashed around harder and protested, and then Leo's voice was right in his ear, cutting through the screaming. "You settle down right now, or I'll give you a real spanking, you hear me?"

 

"You can't! I don't want you to! Mexico! Safeword! Stop it!" Leo stood up, keeping a grip on him, and dragged him over to the sink. He dampened a paper towel and wiped Willie's face. Willie tried turning his face away, to no avail. "Let go of me!"

 

"No! You're going for your counseling! I don't care what you want and what you don't want -- you're going."

 

"MEXICO!" Willie screamed.

 

Leo dropped the paper towel and pulled him into a bearhug. Willie started to struggle but then he realized Leo was kissing his hair, so he held still. Kisses were a good sign. Leo leaned back a little and petted Willie's face. "Sweetheart, you can't safeword out of counseling. It's not like that. I'm gonna come with you. Does this sauce need to go in the fridge?"

 

Willie reached for the pot of red tomato sauce, intending to throw it against the far wall, but before he could lift the pot off the stove, Leo intercepted him. "No, no. I got it." He put the pot in the fridge, then smiled and held his hand out. "Let's go, baby." Willie glared at him. "Don't make this hard, honey."

 

"Don't you mean harder? You already beat me."

 

Leo stepped closer, took his hand, and led him to the front door. "I didn't even leave a mark; that hardly hurt you. You be sure and tell the counselor how dramatic you are."

 

Willie stopped walking. "How do you know it didn't leave a mark? It hurts really bad. That's why I fuckin' safeworded."

 

Leo smiled, but it wasn't a nice smile. "If I have to take your pants down and look at your butt, I'll make sure to leave a mark. Now stop draggin' this out. We're going now."

 

"I don't want to!"

 

"I hear you. You don't want to. That's something else to talk about with the counselor."

 

*

 

The counselor was a fat old lady. She had a shabby little waiting room in a rundown building in northern Manhattan. At least it didn't smell like a hospital. Her office looked less shabby, but that might have been an effect of the indirect lighting. There was a small sofa and armchair, a small desk with a desk chair and side chair, some plants and one of those paintings that's just paint and doesn't look like anything. Willie tried to look out the window, but it faced a brick wall across an alley. "Have a seat, Mr. Gutierrez." Her voice was raspy.

 

Willie sat in the armchair. He didn't want to sit close to her at her desk, and he didn't want to lie down on the couch and share his feelings. The armchair was deep and comfortable. "Would you care for some tea?"

 

"Do you got coffee?"

 

"No, I have tea. Do you want some or not?"

 

"No."

 

There was some tinkling and rattling, and then the doctor hoisted herself from her chair and moved slowly to the sofa, balancing a china teacup and saucer. She sat heavily and regarded Willie, then took a sip of her tea. He tried to suss her out but she was hard to read. He tried to remember her name, something with ski at the end and a Z and a W. He hadn't really remembered because he had never intended to meet her. Despite her size, she was well-dressed in a dark, expensive-looking dress that flowed around her like a robe. She looked about sixty, but her hair was black in a bun on top of her head. She had mascara on, but Willie thought she must have more makeup than that, because she seemed older than she looked. Though certainly if she was that old, she wouldn't still be working, would she? She was only getting referrals from the hospital emergency room; it's not like she was some expensive Manhattan psychologist with celebrity clients. No, she had him. He smirked to himself. She smiled back. "Do you care to smoke?"

 

"I can smoke?"

 

"Yes, this is a private office, and I would like to. Turn on the smoke-eater and we’ll share the ashtray. It's under the magazine." Willie found the ashtray and centered it between them, and flicked the switch on the air freshener. He was about to light up when he saw her holding an unlit cigarette. He sighed and stood up and lit her cigarette for her. She smiled at him. "Thank you." Willie shrugged. He was glad he could smoke but it wasn't going to trick him into trusting her. Leo had promised him that counseling was confidential, but Leo wasn't always right. "Now then. You were referred to me as an attempted suicide. Is that accurate? Did you really attempt suicide?"

 

Willie waved his bandaged wrists. "Didn't do a very good job."

 

"Why did you try to end your life?"

 

Willie opened his mouth and then shut it again when no words came. He tried again, "Listen, Dr., um, what do I call you?"

 

"Call me Dr. Wissorsky, or Dr. Z, if you want to be less formal. Shall I call you Mr. Gutierrez?"

 

"Will."

 

"Very good. Why did you try to kill yourself, Will?"

 

Willie cleared his throat. "I was real upset at the time." Dr. Z. nodded and waited. "I guess I didn't really know what I was doing."

 

"I read that you locked yourself in a bathroom and slit both your wrists. That's not a momentary effort. That takes some time. Do you remember doing it?"

 

Willie shrugged. "I guess. I passed out in the middle."

 

"I won't be able to evaluate your condition if you can't be more forthcoming. If it's hard to talk about, you can write down your answer, or sit with your back to me - whatever would make it easier."

 

Willie stared at the carpeted floor and held smoke in his lungs for a long moment, then blew it all out. He wished he was high. "What if I just don't want to talk? What if I just leave?"

 

"If you don't get treatment for your medical condition, it will only get worse."

 

"I don't have a medical condition!"

 

"You have some kind of condition that caused you to attempt suicide. Could be depression, could be a psychotic break, could be drug interaction. The problem won't get better by itself."

 

"It already is getting better."

 

"If it was getting better, you'd be able to talk about it."

 

"I just don't want to dwell on it."

 

"You must want to do something about it or you wouldn't have come here today."

 

"I didn't want to! Leo made me! He dragged me here!" Willie heard his voice getting louder and he felt furious suddenly. He felt like he could kill her and himself both. He stabbed his cigarette out and slid his hands under his thighs so he wouldn't kill anyone.

 

"OK. Let's breathe for a moment."

 

There was a long silence. Willie felt a little ridiculous and clasped his hands in front of him for a minute, and then lit another cigarette. "I'm sorry I yelled. How long is this appointment for anyway?"

 

"It's OK to yell. You're here to express yourself. This appointment is open-ended because it's your initial appointment, and I'm still assessing you."

 

"Well, I wanna avoid rush hour."

 

Dr. Z. smiled. "There is much you wish to avoid, Will. Who is Leo? Is he the man in the waiting room?" Willie nodded. "And what is his relationship to you?"

 

Willie stared at the carpet again. He tried to figure out what to call Leo. Partner, he supposed. "He's my papi," he heard himself say. He covered his mouth with one hand and glared at his own knees.

 

"It sounds like he cares about you if he would get involved in your healthcare."

 

"He's going to school for medical stuff. So I'm like practice for him."

 

"What do you give him practice in?"

 

Willie shrugged. "Emergencies, I guess. Patients who don't cooperate." He tried to smile.

 

"Why don't you cooperate with him?"

 

The question surprised Willie. He risked a look at Dr. Z., but she was just sipping her tea and smoking and waiting patiently. "I do most of the time. I do anything he wants, mostly."

 

"Well, no couple agrees one hundred percent of the time."

 

"But I'm supposed to, cuz he's in charge."

 

"Is that a rule that you have?"

 

Willie frowned. "Not, like, we don't have like a list of rules. Like the ten commandments of Leo."

 

Dr. Z. smiled. "Is he very bossy?"

 

Willie smiled back. "No. Just about some stuff."

 

"Like medical issues?" Willie nodded. "So someone cares about you enough to make you see a doctor. But you still wanted to die?"

 

Willie hunched over his knees. "He was seeing someone else. We were broke up. I mean, I, he, he said stuff that made me see things different."

 

"See your relationship differently?" Willie nodded. "See it as worse than you had thought?" Willie nodded again. "Is that when you tried to kill yourself?" Willie kept nodding. "So you attempted suicide because you thought you had lost an important relationship?"

 

Willie looked up. "Yeah."

 

"And how is this relationship now?"

 

Willie shrugged. "I don't know."

 

Dr. Z. frowned. "He brought you here. Are you still broken up?"

 

Willie shook his head. "No. He said no, we're together."

 

"Is that what you want?"

 

Willie nodded. "Yeah."

 

"Well, why don't you sound more enthusiastic? What am I missing?"

 

Willie sighed. "It's stupid. It's not the same. Before, we were married, so I had a ring." He held up his naked fingers. "He never gave it back to me."

 

"Did you ask him why not?"

 

Willie shook his head. "I'll ask him later." He bit his lip and stared at the ashtray.

 

"Why not ask now? If it's bothering you?"

 

Willie cleared his throat. "I should wait till we, um, till we're more, like, intimate. Again."

 

Dr. Z. looked surprised. "You're not now?"

 

Willie sighed. "He, he was busy with, um, the other person he was seeing. And then, I guess, then we fought, and now, um, he just doesn't."

 

"Well, why not?"

 

"I don't know. I guess finding me half-dead was a big turnoff."

 

"He said that?"

 

"No. I was joking."

 

"The idea that you disgust your partner is funny to you?"

 

"He said I don't!" Willie heard his own voice sound too loud and tried to think about something else.

 

"Does he give a reason for refusing you?"

 

"I haven't asked him," Willie mumbled.

 

"Well, why not?"

 

Willie shivered. "I, I haven't been good."

 

"I thought you didn't have a lot of rules."

 

"No! That's, I feel like that. Not good."

 

"Ah. I see."

 

The apartment was quiet after the noise of the subway. Willie stuck his appointment card on the refrigerator with a magnet and got a coke. He heard Leo come out of the bathroom and walk into the bedroom, probably to change out of his work clothes. It could be a good time to talk to him, since he’d be undressed and near a bed.

 

Leo looked up when Willie came in. He said, “Hi.” He was standing in his underpants, holding a pair of sweatpants and rummaging through the laundry hamper.

 

“Hi. Whatchya lookin’ for?”

 

“Oh, never mind. A t-shirt. But I’m good.”

 

“You can wear one of mine.”

 

“OK, thanks.”

 

Willie opened his wardrobe and found a clean wifebeater t-shirt for Leo. He wondered if now was a bad time to talk about the sex thing. Dr. Z. had said not to wait till they were in bed. He brought Leo the t-shirt and put a hand on his arm. “Here ya go. Um. Can I interrupt you for a minute?”

 

Leo frowned at him, then sat on the edge of the bed. “What?”

 

He looked so good in his underpants that Willie felt distracted. Or maybe that was just the horniness distracting him. He’d rehearsed this less than two hours ago. He was supposed to say he was troubled by them not being as intimate as he would like. Make I-statements, she had said. “I’m horny,” he said.

 

Leo looked surprised. “Oh! OK, well, oh, um, jeez. You wanna, I mean, what do you, what can I do for you?”

 

Willie’s face felt hot; he must be blushing. He shrugged. “Never mind, it’s OK.” He turned and headed for the bathroom. Leo might leave him alone in there, even without a lock.

 

Leo tackled him, bringing him down painfully to the carpeted floor. Willie yelled, “Ow! Let go!” He tried to squirm free but Leo repositioned himself, so his greater weight was pinning Willie to the floor.

 

“Where ya goin’?” Leo asked. He didn’t sound mad.

 

“The bathroom.”

 

“You were telling me something important.”

 

“It’s not a problem.”

 

Leo sighed and sat on Willie’s chest, pinning his shoulders with his knees. “What’s not a problem? Is there a potential problem?”

 

“No!” Willie shoved ineffectively. “Let me up! It’s no big deal, Leo.”

 

“Sex is no big deal? It’s important to me.” Leo smiled.

 

Willie turned his head to the side so he didn’t have to see the smirk. “I wouldn’t know.”

 

Leo’s fingers clamped onto his chin and forced him to face front again. Willie whined. “You’re hurting me!”

 

“Stop fighting and it won’t hurt,” Leo said calmly. “You look at me while we’re talking.”

 

“I don’t wanna talk about it.”

 

“Well, guess what? I do. Why are you so mad?”

 

“Cuz you’re sitting on me! It hurts! You’re heavy! Get off!”

 

“Alright, I’ll let you up. But we’re still gonna talk. I’ll stand up, and you go sit on the bed, OK?” Willie nodded. Leo’s knees creaked as he shifted his legs and stood up and stepped aside. He held his hand down to Willie, but Willie rolled over, stood up, and ran for the bathroom. He slammed the door behind him and leaned against it. He waited for Leo to start banging and yelling, but nothing happened. A few minutes went by. It was getting boring, and Willie was about to step away from the door when Leo knocked it, briefly. “Open the door, please, Willie.”

 

“I need privacy!” Willie yelled. It was true. He hated not being able to lock the door.

 

Leo said, “Well, you have some privacy. You stay there as long as you like. When you come out, you’re getting a spanking. And then, after your spanking, we’ll talk about your other needs. I’ll be in the living room. When you’re ready, you go get the hairbrush and bring it to me and we’ll take care of that first. I’ll see you in a little while then.”

 

“You can’t! You already did before! Mexico!”

 

“We’ve talked about your safeword and discipline before, Willie. And I know you understand it. And when you misuse it like that, it just adds to the stuff you need to be spanked for.”

 

“It’s just a word! I can say it anytime I want!” Willie yelled.

 

“I’m not arguing with you from the other side of a door, sweetheart. I’ve told you how we’ll handle this. It’s up to you to come get me when you’re ready.”

 

“It’s almost suppertime!” Willie couldn’t think of any other excuses.

 

“For some of us,” Leo answered darkly. His footsteps wandered away down the hall.

 

Willie sat down on the floor and put his face in his hands. Leo sounded serious. He didn’t want to be spanked. The hairbrush meant it was really going to hurt. He hated having to bring the brush. It was like asking for it. Leo would say he’d already been asking for it, with his running away and not sharing his feelings. He just didn’t like to talk about needing sex things. It was embarrassing. Leo knew he needed it; he shouldn’t have to ask him. He was never gonna slash his wrists again because all it did was make everyone embarrass you more with their questions prying into your business. There was no point dragging it out by waiting in here. He got slowly to his feet and went to the bedroom. The spanking hairbrush was on Leo’s bureau. Leo would just send him back for it if he didn’t bring it. Willie picked up the heavy wooden hairbrush and his stomach turned over to let in more butterflies. He hadn’t been bad enough for the hairbrush. Leo should just spank him with his hand. There was no point arguing about it though; Leo would just remind him he didn’t have a say about spankings. It was part of submitting to Leo. Willie sat down on the end of the bed and tried to build up the nerve to go to Leo. He hated having to present himself for having bad behavior. The longer he waited, the worse the spanking got. But it was impossible to just run right in there asking for it like a little slaveboy. His stomach twisted again. He was going to throw up if he kept thinking about it. He should just get it over with. He started down the hallway.

 

Leo was sitting on the sofa but he looked up when Willie appeared. Willie stood a few feet away and held out the hairbrush. Leo grabbed his wrist, then with his other hand he used the remote to mute the television. The loud commercial was cut off and Willie heard his own breathing in the sudden quiet. Leo tugged on his wrist. “You’ll need to come closer for your punishment. It may take awhile, so we’ll stay here where you can put your head on the couch. You may as well take those jeans right off.” Willie stared at him. It seemed so unfair that he was being spanked instead of fucked. Leo said, “I asked you to take your pants off. If you’re not ready to cooperate yet, you can stand in the corner until you are.”

 

That would just drag it out more. Willie pulled his pants down and stepped out of them. He felt completely stupid. Leo took his wrist again and pulled him forward over his lap. He grabbed for the throw pillow but Leo pulled it out of his arms. “No, Willie. This is a punishment. Be grateful you don’t have to let your head hang down. You stay there and take your punishment until I say you can get up. If you resist and fight me, I’ll tie you and get the belt and we’ll start all over.”

 

Leo had never tied him up and whipped him with a belt. But then, he’d never resisted a spanking once he was face down over Leo’s lap. It was like this position knocked all the fight out of him. Leo started rubbing something wet on his ass. It smelled like baby oil. Leo said, “I’m rubbing special ouch oil on you to make this sting harder. I’m very unhappy with your behavior. You’re getting a serious spanking. I don’t expect you’ll want to sit down for a day or two.” Willie flinched and squirmed, but Leo kept rubbing. Leo rubbed all down the backs of his thighs, which was a very bad omen. Leo’s voice sounded very serious and strict and stern. “I have another requirement for you for this punishment. Are you listening to me?”

 

“Yes, sir,” Willie whispered.

 

“I want you to hold still while I spank you. Don’t tense up and kick and roll around. That means you’re resisting your punishment, and I know you want to be a good boy who accepts his punishment. I’m going to spank you until I see that you’re very still and accepting and have learned your lesson. So if I see a lot of squirming, I’ll know you’re not ready to stop yet.”

 

“No!” Willie said. He couldn’t do that; he needed to squirm when it hurt.

 

“No what?”

 

“Yes, sir.” Willie tried to dig his fingers into the couch but there was nothing to grip. Leo smacked the hairbrush down. It burned like fire and Willie yelled. The oil made it horrible. Leo kept spanking. Willie cried “oh!” and “ow!” and “no!” He could hear himself and he sounded like an idiot, but he couldn’t stop it. He tried not to kick but his feet jerked on their own.

 

Leo stopped spanking and ran his fingers lightly over Willie’s throbbing butt cheeks. Willie knew they weren’t even close to done. This was just Leo stopping to torment him. Leo said, “Tell me why you’re being punished.”

 

“I behaved badly, sir,” Willie wheezed.

 

“How did you behave badly?”

 

Willie swallowed. His throat was scratchy from yelling. “I ran away from you instead of talking.”

 

Leo’s hand rubbed between Willie’s shoulders. “That’s right, sweetheart. But what do we need to do for a good relationship?”

 

Willie bit his lip. It was a trick question. “Love?” he asked.

 

Leo stroked his hair. “Of course we need love. But I think we got lots of love. I love you so much, Willie. I wouldn’t punish you if I didn’t love you and want you to do better.” Willie thought that was probably true. He wouldn’t let Leo punish him if he didn’t love him. His ass was hot and sore because of love, then. He felt his eyes filling up. Spanking was always too emotional. Leo said, “We need other stuff besides love though, and you’re not bringing them. We need communication. And we need trust. So now you’re all reminded that you trust me to spank you, next time you’ll trust me to listen to you. Because I would have rather talked about our sex life than spent time whipping your ass tonight. But I’m gonna make an impression on you now so maybe we’ll see a better attitude from you really soon.”

 

“I’ll be good now, papa!” Willie tried.

 

Leo rested the hairbrush on his butt again, and Willie shivered. “No, see, because when you’ve really had enough, you’ll know better than to try to run your spanking. Who’s in charge of spanking you, Willie?”

 

“You, papa,” Willie whispered.

 

“Who says when you’ve been spanked enough?”

 

“You, papa.” Willie felt tears starting again.

 

“What are you supposed to do during a spanking?”

 

“Be submissive.”

 

“That’s right. I think that’s enough of a rest for now.”

 

The spanking started again, even harder than before, or he was more tender. He kicked harder and Leo spanked his thigh, so he screamed and stopped kicking. He just had to lie there and feel it killing him – it hurt so bad, like fire burning him. But it was up to Leo to decide, not up to him. Leo’s elbow ground into his back and then Leo’s hand pulled his butt cheeks apart. Willie screamed and bucked when Leo spanked up and down along the crack of his ass, alternating sides. Leo just readjusted his grip and did it again until Willie realized he had to hold still. He clung to the couch, breathing in sobbing shouts while the hard wooden brush paddled his tender flesh. When Leo moved his hand and started spanking his upper thighs, Willie hardly had any voice left to protest. He just wept. The steady paddling moved back to his ass, harder now, focused on bruising his sit-spot. Leo really did want him to remember this. Well, he would. He’d stop running away instead of talking. It was wrong not to talk to Leo. It was very wrong not to share with his husband. He would talk about anything Leo wanted to talk about. Talking was good. And it was wrong to run off and hide like a little kid. He had to be more of a man for Leo. Leo paddled back over an already scorched area and Willie howled miserably.

 

There was a clunk and suddenly Willie’s own crying sounded louder. Leo’s hands were on his shoulders. “Alright, Willie. That’s enough spanking for now. Time for my naughty submissive to get in the corner. Come on, up you go.” Leo pulled his arm and steadied him while he got on his feet. He caught Willie’s hand that headed back to rub his butt though. “No rubbing. It’s supposed to burn. You can keep crying if you want to. Hands on your head, Willie.” Willie obeyed, though his hands were shaking and his knees felt rickety. Leo walked him over to the corner between the recliner and the kitchen and turned Willie’s face to the ugly plywood paneling. “Now you stand there and think about how your behavior will improve. Keep your hands on your head. If you move, I promise you you’ll be sorry. I’m going to check on dinner.” Willie stood there, shifting from foot to foot. His sniffling sounded pathetic, even to him, but he couldn’t stop. His ass felt like foot-long flames were shooting out from it, and no amount of shifting eased the burn. In his peripheral vision, he could see his pants bunched up on the floor. Just a little while ago he’d thought having to ask for his spanking was the worst part of it. He didn’t know how he always forgot that this was the worst part of it, the throbbing burning pain of it, and knowing he looked stupid, and feeling like a bad little boy, and the horrible gratitude.

 

It seemed like a long time before Leo came back, but it was probably only about ten or fifteen minutes. Leo slid between Willie and the wall. He wrapped his arms around Willie’s waist and rubbed his ass for him, slowly and firmly. Willie leaned into him and cried harder. Leo said, “You can move your hands to hug me if you want.” Willie clung to him, squirming against Leo’s hands and sobbing into his neck. “How are you doing, sweetheart?”

 

“It hurts!” Willie cried.

 

“Good. That will help you remember. Let’s go wash your face and get you ready for supper.”

 

Willie had no inclination to argue with Leo about anything. In the bathroom, he washed his face, and with Leo’s permission looked in the mirror at his ass. It was crimson from his hips to halfway down his thighs. It seemed more horrifying without the usual white strip running down the middle. The whole area was solid red and felt chafed and swollen, even after rubbing. The sight of it made him cry harder, mostly because he knew he’d be sore for at least a few days. Leo smoothed his hair and hugged him again. Willie asked, “Papi, can I have a painkiller?”

 

“Was this a punishment, Willie?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“So can you have a painkiller?”

 

“No,” Willie whispered. He didn’t argue. Arguing would mean more smacks, and even a little smack would hurt a lot at the moment. That’s why a punishment spanking kept him agreeable for days. They were nice days though, with no bickering, and lots of cuddling and talking and fucking. He hugged Leo tighter. Leo looked into his eyes and smoothed his hair back. Leo’s eyes were dark, almost navy blue. He put a hand on Willie’s neck and kissed him fiercely, pressing his tongue into Willie’s mouth and leaning into him. Willie’s dick stood up, and Willie chuckled at his own stupid no-matter-what horniness, but he was busy kissing so it just came out as snorting through his nose. He rubbed against Leo’s hip. Leo pulled out of their kiss and licked his lips. His eyes focused on Willie’s face again and he smiled. “I’m a good kisser, huh?”

 

“I told you I was horny.”

 

Leo kissed the corner of his mouth. “Yes, you did. You want your papa to help you with that?”

 

Willie froze, unsure how to answer. It might be non-submissive to want things. Leo’s smile faded. He rubbed his thumb gently on Willie’s cheek. “Oh honey. Oh sweetie. My baby Williebaby.” Leo bent down suddenly and then Willie was sailing through the air, hoisted over Leo’s shoulder, his head hanging down Leo’s back. He closed his eyes, grabbed Leo’s waist and held on, his heart pounding, his poor blood rushing everywhere. Then his feet were against something soft and Leo was holding his waist. “C’mon, get on the bed and lie on your back.” Willie lowered himself carefully onto his back. It hurt to put weight on his behind. He dug his fingers into the soft covers and reminded himself he was being punished. He shut his eyes. The bed shifted and cloth rustled, and Leo’s personal smell was a lot stronger. Willie took a deep breath and his dick twitched. You're such a slut for him, he mocked himself. The bed shifted again and Leo started kissing again. He tasted sweet and clean and good. Fingers smoothed down Willie’s neck and chest and circled his right nipple, pressing gently with a sharp fingernail, sawing back and forth. Willie squirmed, but every movement set off flares in his beaten behind. He whimpered into Leo's mouth. Leo drew back and smiled at him, then dipped his head and kissed Willie's nipple, licking it gently. Willie's desperate dick led his body into moving without him, rubbing against Leo's hip, dragging Willie’s butt over sheets that felt like steel wool against his sore skin. Leo switched to the left nipple and grazed at it with the uneven edge of his front teeth. Willie groaned and shoved up against Leo. He tried to fit his arm down between them so he could touch himself, but Leo was in the way, big and solid. He forgot about acting submissive and ground against Leo, calling his name. Leo moved further down and took Willie's straining dick into his mouth, soothing and shocking at once. Willie grabbed the sheets to keep from grabbing Leo's hair and fucking his brains out of his head. Leo stopped for a few seconds, raised his head and stared up at Willie. Willie stared back, breathing hard like he’d run somewhere, the sound of his panting drowning out everything else. Leo lowered his head again and did different things with his tongue. Willie gasped and shook. He didn't deserve this. Leo didn't have to do this. It was their life, not a DVD where Leo did what he was told, kneeling, his mouth stretched open and full, his head bobbing obediently. Leo must look like that now, Willie thought, and then he couldn't think anymore. He came hard and felt dizzy even though he was still lying on the bed.

 

It seemed like a long time later that he opened his eyes. Leo was still lying between his legs, his head heavy on Willie's right thigh. Willie wiggled his leg and Leo grunted and sat up, wiping his mouth on his t-shirt. “So, you want dinner? I’m gonna make mac and cheese.”

 

“Yes, please,” Willie whispered.

 

Leo grinned suddenly and flopped down next to him. He leaned over and kissed Willie’s cheek. “Did I ever tell you how handsome you are?”

 

Willie blinked and nodded. “A long time ago,” he whispered.

 

Leo slid an arm under his shoulders and pulled him into a hug. “Well, that’s not accurate now then, cuz you get better-lookin’ every day, Willie. You’re the handsomest man I know. You’re the handsomest man in New York City.”

 

“You are,” Willie mumbled.

 

Leo rubbed his back. “No, I’m second to you. I feel so grateful you’re with me, Willie. I am so lucky I got you. I know you’re my best friend and stuff, but you’re like the sexiest boyfriend in the world.”

 

Willie sniffed and rubbed his ass. “Don’t you mean naughtiest?”

 

Leo laughed. “No. I’m sure there are naughtier boyfriends than you, who got no one to spank them and teach them better behavior. Nobody sexier than you though.”

 

Willie sighed and pulled back a little. “You want Mr. Sexy here to do something for you?”

 

Leo pulled him close again and put their foreheads together and stared into his eyes. “You’re so sexy that I got off gettin’ you off.” He kissed Willie quickly and sat up. “But maybe later. Time to eat now.”

 

 

 

The packaged macaroni and cheese didn’t seem as terrible as usual. You would think it wouldn’t go with the wine, but the wine tasted delicious. Even sitting wasn’t too bad since Leo let him have a pillow. Willie snuggled inside his comfy, non-irritating flannel robe, sipped his wine, and marveled at how good he felt. Leo had moved his chair to sit next to him so they could hold hands. Willie took another sip of wine and wondered if Leo had always been this cute. And how could he seem cute while at the same time he was his Dominant? “This is nice wine,” he said.

 

Leo smiled. “It’s from a box, from Trader Joe’s.”

 

Willie smiled back. “Well, wine from a box, dinner from a box, it’s pretty good though.”

 

“You gotta pick the right boxes is all. And there’s ice cream in a box in the freezer.”

 

“You rule.”

 

“Yes, I do.”

 

“Can I ask you something?”

 

“Yes.” Leo looked expectant.

 

"Did you cancel our reservation at that inn?"

 

Leo looked surprised. "No."

 

"We were broke up, so I didn't know." Willie shoved more macaroni into his mouth, like this was a casual thought.

 

Leo rolled his eyes. "Yeah, we were broke up for like three hours. I didn't make any phone calls."

 

Willie wasn't even sure what that was supposed to mean. "So we're still goin' then?"

 

"Yeah, Willie."

 

"You know how there's a lake?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Do ya think it has any nude beaches?"

 

Leo looked surprised. "I don't know. Why?”

 

Willie stared at his plate. “I have, like, a – well, a fantasy of, of us skinnydipping.”

 

Leo’s fork froze halfway to his mouth. “You do?”

 

Willie tried to sound like he wasn’t a weirdo. “Not just swimming naked. I mean, fucking in the water.”

 

“I kinda got that.”

 

“Like, that hot tub was awesome, but a whole lake would be even more bigger.”

 

Leo smiled. “What about the ocean? That would be huge. It’d be global.”

 

“The ocean would be good but the waves might go up my nose.” Leo laughed. Willie yanked his hand out of Leo’s. “You’re laughing! You told me to share stuff and then you laugh!”

 

“I’m laughing cuz you’re funny. I’m not laughing at you, sweetie. You know that.” Leo took Willie’s hand back and squeezed it. “I’ll look into some nude beaches for us to check out, OK? We got a whole summer ahead of us.”

 

“OK. You want dessert now?”

 

“Sure, Willie.”

 

Willie stood up and cleared the table and dished out ice cream. He tried to think of a way to bring up the rings. Leo was in a really good mood so now was a good time. Maybe he should forget being smooth and just be extra submissive. He brought the ice cream to the table. Sitting down again made him catch his breath and reminded him to proceed carefully. “So, now that you mention it, I have a question, papa.” He looked at Leo from under his lashes, which Leo thought looked cute.

 

Leo frowned. “Now that I mention what?”

 

“When we broke up.”

 

“We’re not broken up. We’re together.”

 

“I know, I know.”

 

“OK, so let’s not dwell on a few bad hours, OK?” Leo sounded upset. Willie put his spoon in his dish and wiped his mouth with his napkin. Leo sighed. “What’s wrong with your ice cream?”

 

“Nothing,” Willie whispered. He did the eyelash look again.

 

Leo squeezed his hand. “Alright, Willie. Whatever it is, spit it out. Just say it. I don’t need a whole performance here.”

 

“Gimme my ring back. Please.”

 

Leo’s expression was hard to read. “Give you your ring back. That was my father’s ring. And you threw it in my face. And then you ran off and slashed your wrists with no consideration for what that would do to me. And now you’re like, gimme my ring.”

 

Willie blushed. "I'm sorry. I want it back though."

 

“Stay there.” Leo headed for the bedroom. Willie heard him rummaging around and hoped he was getting the ring. But Leo returned carrying two blue velvet boxes. He handed one to Willie. "This is for you." Willie opened it. Inside was a gold ring with a round diamond set flat into it. Maybe the diamond was fake, but it looked really good. The outside edges of the ring were silver rims molded into tiny ropes. Willie held his breath for a long moment. Leo asked, "What do you think? Is it OK? If you don't like it, we can go get a different one."

 

"It's perfect," Willie said. "It's too nice, Leo."

 

Leo smiled. "Good. I got one too. Look." He sat down and opened his velvet box. It contained a matching gold ring, with the ropes but without the diamond.

 

Willie looked back and forth between them. "Mine's different?"

 

Leo put an arm around him. "Yeah. You know why?" Willie shook his head. Leo rubbed the small of his back. "Cuz you always think you're the lower one. But you're not. You're the special one. I got the diamond one for you cuz you're my jewel, Willie. You're my beautiful thing." Willie blinked and blinked. Leo traced the edge of his ring. "The ropes mean we're tied together. OK? Is it too much? Cuz they got some without ropes."

 

Willie shook his head. "It's perfect."

 

Leo kissed his temple. "Would you put mine on me?"

 

Willie nodded. He prised the shiny ring from its velvet case and reached for Leo's left hand, then paused. "Left hand?"

 

"Is that where you're wearing yours?"

 

"I'll wear it however you want."

 

"Left hand is good for me."

 

"What about, like, gayness?"

 

"What about it?"

 

"That’s the right hand?"

 

"Willie, I'm married to you. I'm married. It's a wedding ring. Left hand."

 

Willie kissed Leo's left palm, then turned his hand over and kissed each of his knuckles, then slid the ring onto his ring finger. His heart thumped wildly. In spite of everything, he was married to Leo! He held out his hand. "Do mine!"

 

Leo smiled and kissed his hand thoroughly, then slid the sparkling ring onto his finger. They held their hands out next to each other and grinned. Willie said, "They look so good, Papi!"

 

"I'm glad you like them. I like them."

 

“Where did you get them?”

 

"Well, there's a story." Leo sighed.

 

"What?"

 

"Let's bring the coffee in the living room and I’ll tell you."

 

 

Willie’s abandoned jeans were still on the living room floor. Leo picked them up and said, “Get comfortable. Find something we can mute on the TV.” He disappeared with the jeans and returned with their coffee. He sat down on the sofa and let Willie snuggle against him. He tried to think where to start. “OK, about the rings. Well, OK, before that, y’know, while you were in the hospital, I thought about a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff. All the ways I hurt you and let you down. And I’m sorry for that, Willie.”

 

“It’s OK,” Willie whispered.

 

“No, it’s not OK. I want you to listen, OK? Cuz I made some decisions that affect both of us.” Willie clutched his coffee cup tighter and nodded. Leo petted his leg and continued. "For one thing, I disrespected you as my submissive." Willie frowned. Leo tried to make his voice sound nice and calm. "Y'know, you're just, that's how you relate, and I should respect that and be your dominant, but I go off on tangents and you get more and more wound up cuz you're tryna submit to someone who's not paying good attention. So I'm gonna pay better attention to that. I know I haven't been there for you like a good papa for awhile, and I apologize for that, but I’ll do better now.”

 

Willie sighed. "OK, I get it. You're back in charge."

 

"Yeah. You saw what a sucky submissive I am," Leo said. He tried to sound like it was a joke.

 

Willie looked up from his coffee cup. He looked upset. "I didn't think so."

 

Leo blushed. He hadn't meant to discuss this. "You said you didn't like the DVDs," he mumbled.

 

Willie's voice was rough. "I didn't. I meant, um, a couple of times we, you did things for me, I mean, a while ago. You weren't so much my papa then." He cleared his throat. "I mean, it doesn't matter, just, you know, you don't suck at it. That's not true." He patted Leo’s knee.

 

Leo didn’t know what to say. He could feel himself blushing. He'd never thought of letting Willie top him as submitting, but when he looked back on it, Willie used to get a little bossy back in the day, calling him a bad boy and shit. Leo hadn't really taken it seriously. Now that he thought back, he remembered crying, and Willie cooing at him to man up, if that was even a concept you could apply to that situation. He didn't remember it hurting so much though, and he didn't remember being scared, or if he was, he was only scared it would hurt, not scared that Willie would hurt him, which sounded like not much difference but felt like a really big difference. Willie kept staring into his coffee cup. Leo was surprised he'd said anything at all. It wasn't like Willie to be sensitive like that. "Thanks," he muttered.

 

Willie shrugged. "It's the truth."

 

Leo braced himself. "Do you wish I was not so much your papa sometimes now?"

 

Willie looked at him quickly and then stared into his cup again. Leo couldn't read his expression. Willie said, "How could you only be my papa sometimes? You are or you aren't. It's good you are."

 

"So it's OK?"

 

Willie sighed. "Yeah. It’s good." He cleared his throat. "You were gonna tell me where you got the rings."

 

"OK. Well, here's the thing. I missed that exam."

 

"Your test?" Willie sat up straight. He looked shocked.

 

"Yeah, I was at the hospital with you."

 

"Leo! No!"

 

"Willie, calm down." He steadied Willie’s coffee cup before he spilled it. "It's no big deal. They give the test every ninety days. I'll just take it next time."

 

Willie glared. "But you'll miss graduation!"

 

Leo shrugged. "So what? I'll get my diploma anyway. I'll get my degree. It'll just be three months later than I thought."

 

"Why you gotta always miss graduation, Leo?"

 

Leo sighed. "Gotta go at my own speed, I guess. I'm just slow."

 

"No you're not."

 

"Well, thanks. I don't care if I take it in the fall. I probably got a better chance of passing it."

 

Willie leaned against him again. Leo put an arm around him. "Was Pat mad?" Willie asked.

 

"I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it."

 

"You don't wanna talk to him?"

 

Leo kissed Willie's cheek. Sometimes he was like a little emotional detective, looking for problems. "I'm busy talking to you. I'm telling you about the rings."

 

"Oh, right. So then what?"

 

"I made my new plan, but it means I gotta go to school another semester, cuz I dropped some courses too. So I wouldn't flunk them. So I was all out of tuition money, so I took out a student loan. And you know, you can use those for, like, school supplies and living expenses and stuff too. So I got the rings with that."

 

"But now you gotta pay off a loan." Willie sounded worried.

 

Leo rubbed his shoulder and arm. "I know. But it'll be OK. I got a job, and I'll get a better job, and you're gonna get a job too. Not cuz of the loan, but cuz you need to have a job. I was wrong to have you stay home and be isolated, Willie. I'm sorry."

 

Willie pulled away and sat up straight. "You don't gotta apologize for supporting me."

 

"I'm not. I'm just sayin'. I kinda pressured you into not working when maybe you wanted to work. So now if you wanna work, that's fine, I support that, too. I'm not sayin' you have to run out and take any job you can get, cuz I want you to get a job you like, OK? I'm not saying you got to, I'm saying you can if you want. No pressure."

 

Willie’s face was unreadable, but he only said, "OK, well, I'll think about it."

 

"OK, good."

 

"Who would cook though?"

 

"Did we starve when you had a job?"

 

"No."

 

"Alright then. Don't worry about that."

 

Willie put his coffee mug on the coffee table and snuggled closer. "I was only in the hospital for like one day and you go and decide all these things on your own."

 

Leo rubbed his back. "Well, it seemed longer than a day, Willie. I was shit scared." Willie looked at him. Leo said, "Don't scare me like that no more, Willie. I need you here."

 

"Mm, I’ll be good now, Papi.”

 

Chapter 12

One Week Later, Thursday afternoon

 

Willie watched the dragons battle to the death and ate some more popcorn. Hardly anyone was at this matinee, but Leo would refuse to see this with him, and he'd walked out of therapy, and he had time to kill before meeting Leo at the bar. They were supposed to have drinks with Pat to congratulate him for passing the exam that Leo had missed. Willie thought it kind of sucked for Leo to have to be reminded, but Leo had looked at him like he was crazy and talked about how Pat was his friend.

 

The hero killed the dragon, finally, though it scorched up a lot of villages in its death throes. Willie supposed Leo hadn't technically refused to see the movie. He'd never gotten around to asking Leo to see it because he knew Leo would say no. He tried not to ask for things that Leo would say no to. And anyway, he didn't really care if they saw this movie together or not; it would just be nice to go out together. Well, maybe they would now if Leo was done cheating. Willie tried to focus on the movie and not think about cheating. Everyone was celebrating the death of the dragon, like everything would be perfect now that the crisis was over. They didn't know that after the crisis was just the same old aggravation as before, only with complications from the crisis. They would still be a dirty brokeass village that didn't even recognize heroes, but now they had lots of scorched edges. And probably that smoky smell. And the carcass of a dragon rotting away in the heat.

 

He was never going back to Dr. Z. again. Leo was gonna have to find him another therapist if it was so fucking important, but he wasn't gonna sit there and be insulted by her bullshit. He pushed his mind away from it again and watched the end of the movie. A baby dragon hatched out of an egg deep in a cave, and then it said The End with a question mark after it, but that was probably a rhetorical question because this movie was too lame to ever have a sequel. Willie checked his phone and sighed. He didn't think he could sit through it again, and it was still too early to meet Leo. He watched all the credits. The lights came up. He tried to think where he could go but it was just like a big black wall in his head, dark. The ushers were walking around picking up empty popcorn bags. "Movie's over, sir," one of them said.

 

"Yeah, OK." Willie stood up and went to the lobby. He stared out the big plate glass lobby windows at all the people rushing by. The normal people with normal mothers and normal lives. He wondered if four o'clock was late enough for Leo to leave work early. He had no other idea of how to kill three hours. Not that he was that happy about drinks, but it would be better than being alone. His phone rang and he saw Leo's name and snatched at it. "Papi!"

 

"Hey, baby." Leo sounded surprised. "How are ya?"

 

Willie breathed for a minute. "OK, I guess."

 

"How was Dr. Z.?" Leo asked.

 

"Um, we gotta talk about that."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Yeah. What are you doin'? Is work busy?"

 

"Not too bad. Why?"

 

Willie sighed. "I got nothing to do till tonight."

 

There was a moment's silence. Then Leo said, "Can you hold on one minute, honey?"

 

"OK."

 

The sounds from the phone got muffled, like Leo covered it with his hand, but he could hear Leo's voice rumbling a question, only not the words, just the intonation. Willie wondered what it was. "Hey, he's depressed again, maybe I should dump him?" Or, "How hard of a beating is appropriate for someone who fucks up their therapy?" Don't think like that, he told himself. Leo loves me, he told himself. Leo's voice came back. "Are you still in the city?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Can you meet me at Buddies in half an hour?"

 

Willie's heart sped up a little. "I gotta take the subway. Maybe forty-five minutes?"

 

"That's fine. I'll be there. We can get a drink and hang out before we meet Pat and them, OK?"

 

Willie swallowed. "OK, papi. Who are you bringing? Do I know them?"

 

"I mean we like just you and me, Willie. Just us. Is that OK?"

 

"Yeah," Willie whispered. "That's good."

 

"OK. I'll see you in forty-three minutes then. I can't wait."

 

"Me neither."

 

"Get a move on."

 

Willie was already out on the sidewalk and striding towards the subway. "I'm comin'."

 

"OK, hon. Love you."

 

"Love you too."

 

The subway seemed slow, like it was glued to the tracks, screeching along, but Willie was still walking into Buddies forty minutes later. He'd practically run from the subway but he'd forced himself to walk the last block more slowly so he wouldn't be panting. And so he could have a cigarette. Leo was at the bar, watching the door, and he waved and stood up as soon as Willie walked in. Willie sprinted across the room into his arms and buried his face in Leo's neck. He felt Leo's arms squeezing him closer and wished he could stay right there for the rest of his life. His Leo. His papa. His new parent, bitchface had said. Well, so what? He heard Leo talking. "I think he's gonna have what I'm havin', and I'll have another one." Leo rubbed his back. "Am I gonna have to slide a straw in there for you to drink your beer?" Willie lifted his head. Leo smiled at him and Willie blinked back tears, then kissed Leo's cheek, and then his mouth, and then took a step backwards. "You got a chair there," Leo directed. Willie sat in the bar stool. "Unless you wanna move to a booth?" Leo asked.

 

"No, this is good."

 

"So, therapy sucked today?" Willie nodded. Leo put a hand on his back and sipped his beer quietly. "Do you wanna tell me about it?"

 

Willie gulped from his delicious beer. "I don't know. I don't know what to tell you. I left. I told her I'm not comin' back."

 

"What did she say?"

 

"I don't know. I just left."

 

The hand on his back moved in slow circles. "Did you hit anyone?"

 

"No."

 

"Good boy."

 

Willie smiled a little. "You're not mad?"

 

Leo petted his hair. "Therapy brings up emotions. You're supposed to have a reaction."

 

"But I'm not goin' back."

 

Leo moved the bowl of pretzels closer to him. "Well, I think you need to think about that a little. Cuz you already started with her. And if you start with someone else, eventually he'll just get to the same thing, and you'll wanna walk out again. Cuz it's what got said, right? It's not her personally, right?"

 

"She's the one with the psycho-- nobody-- it's-- how could it not be personal?" Willie heard his own voice getting loud and tried to take deep breaths.

 

Leo petted his hand. "Do you wanna tell me what it is? You don't gotta."

 

"It's not even fucking true, so no, I don't wanna say it."

 

"OK." Leo ate a pretzel. "Are you too upset to meet Pat and them later? Do you need to go home?"

 

Willie bit his lip. "Can I stay with you?" He was horrified that his voice shook.

 

Leo squeezed his fingers. "Honey, you have to stay with me, OK? I'll take you home if you want. I can call Pat and make an excuse."

 

Willie shook his head. "No. You got him a card and everything. We should go out with him."

 

Leo grinned. "We're staying till like 9, then I'm taking you home."

 

"I'll be really drunk by 9."

 

"That's fine. We're gonna get some dinner before we meet them, get some food into you."

 

Thursday night

Pat looked surprised at the bottle of single malt scotch, but Leo could tell he liked it. "Congratulations, man," he said again. For awhile there, he hadn't been sure he'd stay friends with Pat, but it had all worked out alright. He was glad when Pat came around the table to hug him, and hugged back hard. "I love you, man."

 

"Love you too," Pat murmured and slapped his back. He leaned over and tapped Willie's arm. "Don't get jealous."

 

Leo could tell Willie's smile was fake, but Pat couldn't. "No tongue now!" Willie said. "I'm going out for a cigarette, Leo." He twirled his fingers at Pat. "Finish this up before I get back." Another fake smile that made Pat laugh. As Willie disappeared out the front door of the bar, Pat said, "He seems OK, Leo."

 

Leo shrugged. "Yeah, he'll be OK."

 

"How about you?"

 

Leo took a long drink of his beer before speaking. "He didn't die. I got no complaints."

 

Pat sat in Willie's empty chair and checked that the classmates on the other side of the table were still talking about their job prospects. "It's not right you have one fling and not only does the guy turn out to be a creep, but then you get the suicide guilt-trip laid on you."

 

Leo smiled. "When'd you get so sympathetic to my problems, Pat?"

 

"I always been sympathetic to your problems. Didn't I try to help you find yourself in the Internet porn? Didn't I?"

 

Leo laughed. "He said he never put nothing online. I think Willie just got me paranoid."

 

"You talked to him?"

 

Leo checked the door but there was no sign of Willie. "He called. To apologize, he said."

 

"You tell him to fuck off?"

 

Leo shrugged. "I told him it was all a mistake and not to call me no more." He drank some more beer, hoping Pat would think his cheeks were flushed from drinking.

 

"That's when he told you you weren't online?"

 

Leo nodded. "He said he wanted us to have closure." He made a face. "I said, case closed. Then we hung up."

 

"So you feel good about it?"

 

"I never wanna see him again." He checked the door again. "Y'know, I should probably go. I promised him an early night. But let's you and me go out for drinks next week, OK? I wanna hear how your jobhunt's going."

 

"Alright. I'll call ya."

 

Leo grabbed his backpack and fumbled inside it. "I forgot! I got email now. Here." He found a pen and scrawled on a napkin. "I bought a computer with my student loan money."

 

"Handler joins the 21st century!" Pat mocked.

 

"One small step for me, one giant student loan for mankind."

 

They hugged again and Leo headed out the door. He found Willie sitting on the curb and ruffled his hair. "Hey man."

 

Willie scrambled to his feet. "Oh, sorry! I was just headin' in now."

 

"We're goin' home now. Come on."

 

Willie looked flustered. "I didn't pay, I didn't say goodbye."

 

"Pat says goodbye. I left money for our drinks. Let's just go. Or are you not ready?"

 

"No, I'm ready."

 

"OK."

 

 

Willie headed for the bathroom as soon as he was inside, and it seemed to Leo that the shower ran for a long time. He wondered if Willie was crying in there. He used to worry when Willie did that, but now it seemed like just part of the emotional weather of living with Willie. He flashed on Erica sitting with Willie at some party, soothing and petting him even though he seemed OK. Being the papa was supposed to be so macho, but it was really a whole lot of caretaking, and it felt like what a woman did, fussing over his boyfriend. Leo put the kettle on to make cocoa.

 

Willie emerged, wrapped in his bathrobe, ten minutes later. He sat on the couch next to Leo. "Whatcha watchin'?"

 

"Nothin' special. You can change it." Leo handed him the clicker. "I made you cocoa. I'll get it." He stood up.

 

Willie grabbed at his hand. "I can get it."

 

Leo patted his hand. "Shh, pick a show. I got it." He went and got the cocoa and put it on the coffee table, then sat down again.

 

Willie reached for the hot drink at once. "Gracias, Papi."

 

"No problemo. What are we watchin'?"

 

Willie handed him the clicker. "You pick. I don't care."

 

"Do we got any good movies?"

 

Willie shrugged. "I don't know. Just put on something stupid. I don't wanna get all involved with nothin'."

 

Leo put on what he thought of as the gay reruns: Will and Grace and Frasier over and over. He always thought the Frasier guys were a couple even though they were supposed to be brothers, but they didn't seem like brothers. Willie leaned against his arm, so Leo shifted and wrapped an arm around him. He wished they could make out on the couch, but it was hard to kiss around a cocoa mug. He tried to think about something more pure and sensitive. "Do they seem like brothers to you? Cuz they always seem gay to me."

 

"Big stupid fags," Willie agreed. "I don't think they ever do it with the girls. I can't even picture them with girls. Can you?"

 

Leo wondered if he ought to scold about the hate-speech. He decided against it. "Would you do either of 'em?"

 

"If I had to, I guess," Willie answered. "As long as they don't say psychology things."

 

Leo took a deep breath and tried to feel open-minded. "What do you mean, if you had to?"

 

Willie shrugged against him. "Oh, nothin'. I mean, you know, if I had no choice, I could cope."

 

"But you do have a choice. That was the whole point of the question."

 

"I could say no?"

 

"Of course, Willie."

 

"Then no, I don't even wanna meet them."

 

Leo sighed. "It was just a hypothetical question. Nobody's meetin' no one."

 

"What, you wanted to know if I thought he was cute?" Willie's voice was mocking.

 

Leo took his arm back. "Yeah, I guess. I guess it was stupid."

 

"Kinda, yeah."

 

The TV laughtrack sounded too loud. Leo changed the channel. There was nothing decent on. He muted the sound for a minute and just stared at the TV, thinking out his words. "I'm never gonna make you meet no one like that again. That was wrong and I'm never gonna do it again. I promise. I swear to god, Willie."

 

There was a long silence and then Willie grabbed for the clicker and turned the sound back on. A car commercial blared through the living room. Willie said, "It was just hypothetical, Leo." His voice sounded choked.

 

Leo felt a little sick. It was so stupid that he couldn't even talk to his own spouse. He wished there was a way to just hose down their whole relationship and wash all the junky bullshit off it. He got up and went to the kitchen and got a cold beer. Then he sat and stared at his schoolbooks. He grabbed a notebook and started to write.

 

Ninety minutes later, Leo stopped writing and rubbed his hand. He got a bottle of water from the fridge to take to bed. He rubbed his eyes and read over the three pages he'd printed over in tiny letters.

 

Dearest Willie,

I know it's stupid to write this letter. I should just go sit down on the couch and talk to you, but I'm scared I'll say the wrong thing or just be stupid and my feelings won't matter. I know you care about my feelings. Just like I care about your feelings. And I do care, so much, but that don't mean I never hurt you, cuz I know I have. I'm sorry for that though. But that goes both ways cuz you know you've hurt me too.

When you slashed your wrists that was a big fuck you to me. I know it was for a lot of other stuff too, and I understand that you were feeling very bad, and I know I said the wrong thing, and I'm sorry, but it was like you were saying I'm part of your problems, I'm something to kill yourself over. I don't ever wanna be that to you. I don't even know how to explain to you how I felt when I saw you lying there like that. I felt like if you could just not die I would never ask for anything else in my life. That's how I felt right then, even though now that you didn't die, it turns out I still have shit I wanna ask for in life. But you are the most important; you are what I build on in my life. It's no good without you. I need you here with me. To me, you would be a reason to live, but then maybe I just never felt that bad? I don't know. I hope you are feeling better than that now. Please never do that again.

I know you're still kinda mad about Chris, and I feel like you don't understand it. Or maybe I don't understand it. There's nothing for you to be mad about no more cuz it's totally over -- you saw what a fucking disaster it was. He did call me once since then to try to make nice but I told him not to call me no more. I know you are pissed that I brought you over there that night, and I apologize again for it. You think I was just pimping you out like you been through before, but that wasn't how I felt. I'm not making excuses; I was wrong; I know that, but I'm tryna explain. I felt bad about it too, and that's how come I was so mean. Chris kept asking me to bring you, and that made me feel bad, cuz why would he need someone else unless he wasn't OK with me? Cuz I had a hard time doing some stuff with him; I am very uncoordinated and inconsiderate, he said. And I have bad habits. I didn't want to bring you there partly cuz I knew it would just piss you off more but also I am embarrassed to say this but I was scared he would like you better, cuz you are so hot in bed, and he would want you instead of me, and I just wanted someone to want me. I know I was wrong to cheat so my feelings don't really matter. And I know you say you want me but you want me cuz you love me, not cuz you think I'm hot.

Also, I was excited cuz Chris was so dominant, and even though he was too rigid about some things and he wasn't very caring towards me, I like to be fucked sometimes, more often than I am. I don't know how to ask you about that, cuz whenever I try to you get all baby-needs-his-papa, and I don't wanna spoil that; I like that too. I like doing DIFFERENT THINGS. I know before me you sometimes had times when other people wanted it all one way, but I am not like that. I like when you are Bill, but I like all the ways you are. Sometimes I worry that you see everything some other way that I'm missing. Like when you kneel by the bed. I get it is submissive, but am I supposed to care about that? Do you want me to snap my fingers and give you orders? When you do that, I want to pet you and touch you because you look so serious and sweet and good and delicious. I don't want to spend a lot of time on ordering you around.

But sometimes I know better than you and then I do order you. Like now, with the therapy. I know some bad shit happened at therapy today, and probably I am stupid to even write this letter today, because you are still thinking about whatever happened with the shrink. Now you want a new shrink even though this one is perfectly nice and is making you think, which is her job. But you don't want to tell me about whatever it is that's such a big problem. Ever since I called you this afternoon, I been wishing you would trust me and share your problem with me, that's why I kept offering to take you home in case you wanted to talk. But you don't wanna talk, and I guess that's OK, cuz it's your personal business, and I'm sure my therapist said some shit to me that I will take to the fucking grave. But at the same time I feel worried that we can't talk about stuff very good and it will hurt our relationship more than it already is. I would say we should go to couples therapy except I don't think you can handle any more therapy :) I guess this whole note is to say that if you want to talk to me about anything, I would care about your stuff and try to help, cuz I love you very much. I am too chicken to go in the living room and say that to your face. I don't think that you would laugh but I think you would say you don't wanna talk about it. Then I feel like I can't say nothing either. Then we sit there and it's like we're not even together even though we're right there. Sometimes I think if I fuck you hard enough it will make you open up to me but I know that is stupid. I got fucked hard and it just hurt and pissed me off. It's better to be gentle, but when I am gentle sometimes you act like I'm stupid and pathetic. Sometimes I am stupid and pathetic. Like when I write stupid letters instead of just pulling myself together.

Anyway, I guess I got no point to end off with here, except that I love you cuz that's always my main point. I'm going to bed now. Stay with me forever. Love, Leo/Leonard

 

Willie was still hoping Leo would come back and cuddle some more when he heard him going to bed. When did Leo start going to bed without him? Used to be Leo tried to get them on the same schedule. He supposed he could go check on him, anyway.

 

Leo was just a lump under the covers. He'd had a long day, Willie reflected. He moved closer and Leo opened his eyes. Willie sat on the tiny edge of the bed beside Leo, but Leo didn't move to give him more room, so he stood up again. "You going to bed?" he asked. It sounded so stupid. Of course he was. Look at him.

 

"Yeah," Leo said gruffly. "Good night."

 

"Good night. Um, sweet dreams." Willie quickly leaned down and kissed Leo's forehead. "I love you."

 

Leo frowned. "I love you too." He turned onto his back and looked a little more aware. "Are you comin' to bed?"

 

"I, I, if you want. I didn't know you were. I thought you were coming back when you finished your diary."

 

"Sorry. I shoulda said. What time is it?"

 

"Like, ten."

 

Leo sighed. "Come lie down with me."

 

Willie kicked his shoes off and slid in beside him. Then he got up and hurried out of his jeans and t-shirt, and got back in. He liked to feel Leo against his skin. He cuddled up close, and Leo put an arm around him. Willie stuck his nose against Leo's chest and breathed him in for awhile. Leo's hand moved slowly against his back. This is where he'd wanted to be all day.

 

"You OK?" Leo asked.

 

Willie nodded against his body. "Now I am, yeah."

 

Leo's other hand combed softly through Willie's hair. "I wasn't writing a diary. I was writing you a letter. You didn't see it on the fridge?"

 

Willie opened his eyes. Leo was holding him, so he was cautiously hopeful. "No. A bad letter?"

 

"No. No no no. Just about my feelings."

 

"Oh." Willie cleared his throat. "Do you want me to go get it?"

 

"No. I can sum it up for ya. I love you."

 

"You wrote me a love letter?"

 

"No. I thought you didn't like those."

 

"I like them, just, they're so gay."

 

"Yeah, OK. Do you wanna sleep or do you got other needs here?"

 

Willie thought his face was hot enough that Leo must feel it burning him. He made himself let go and turned over. "I'm OK. You can sleep."

 

Leo rolled across the bed and wrapped his arms around him. "Sweetie. Honey. I'm only asking what you want. You're so hard to talk to. I feel like I always say the wrong thing to you."

 

"We were talking! Then you don't wanna talk no more. So OK, go to sleep. Don't be mad at me."

 

"I'm not mad at you."

 

"So how come you keep, just, like I said something wrong!"

 

Leo kissed Willie's shoulder. "Well, what did you say, hon?"

 

"I said gay, not fag, not queer, I said the right word like you said."

 

"But you said it like it's a bad thing."

 

"No I didn't! What do you call it? What do you call love letters from a man to a man? They're gay! What do you fucking care what I call it, anyway? I don't understand what you want!" Willie sat up roughly, pulling away from Leo. "I'm going to take a shower."

 

"You just took a shower when we got home."

 

"Well I'm taking another one! And don't come in there just cuz there's no lock!"

 

Leo sat up and stared at him. Willie couldn't read the look on his face. Leo held out his hand. "C'mere. Willie, you can cry right here. You don't gotta hide. Don't run away from me. Tell me what's wrong."

 

"Nothing!" Willie heard himself scream. He felt frozen. Leo was still staring at him, and then Leo jumped up and hugged him tight.

 

"What nothing, baby? What's hurting you? Come be with me till you feel a little better. Come on. Do you need a spanking?"

 

"No!" Willie wailed and then he was crying for real and it was too late to get to the shower or anything. Leo had seen him cry lots of times anyway so what was the big deal? Leo moved them so he was sitting in Leo's lap and didn't even have to stand up anymore. He cried into Leo's t-shirt for a long time. Every time he thought he was maybe ready to stop, he'd think of his mother wiping his face and start again. Leo rubbed his back and said it would be ok over and over, and it probably would be, but it hadn't been ok back then at all. It had always been worse than he thought. And it was like the fucking shrink was killing her all over again. Where was the fucking shrink to say you don't do that to a little boy, ok? No one fucking cared what happened to some wetback bitch and her brat. Leo tapped the side of his face and he jerked his head away, then opened his eyes. Leo had the most beautiful frown in the world.

 

Leo said, "Drink some water, Willie."

 

Willie sat back enough to hold the water bottle, though Leo would have held it for him if he wanted. "I love you so much," he croaked.

 

Leo kissed his cheek. "I love you so much too. That ain't what you're crying about, is it?"

 

"No." Willie swallowed some more water and handed the bottle back to Leo to hold. He put his head down again, but the crying momentum was broken. He felt like he'd run a marathon. "I hate therapy."

 

"You wanna tell me about it?"

 

Willie shook his head. "It's very disgusting."

 

Leo looked at him seriously. "You're not disgusting, though."

 

Willie closed his eyes for a minute. He supposed it was like confession. "You promise not to say nothing? And not, like, remind me?" Leo nodded. "She thinks, well, I guess, it might be true, that-- where'd you put that water?" Leo handed him the bottle and he took a long swig of it. He tilted himself off of Leo's lap and just sat next to him on the bed, but he held out his hand and Leo squeezed it tightly. He closed his eyes again and took a deep breath. "My mother let men touch me. For money. When I was little." There was a roaring sound in his ears, but Leo kept squeezing and petting his hand.

 

"Oh Willie!" He sounded upset.

 

Willie licked his lips and clung to Leo's arm. "She stayed with me, she didn't let them take me anywhere!" He didn't know why he was saying that. It seemed like he should try to be fair. He wished she was still alive; she would explain it to him, what had happened and why. Leo was hugging him and murmuring at him. Willie tried to explain some more. "She was like, why was I so mad that you took me to Chris cuz yeah it sucked but like nothing really happened and I know that! I know it wasn't really so bad as it felt. She thinks it reminded me, cuz I trust you." He was getting weepy again.

 

Leo handed him more Kleenex. "I'm so sorry, sweetheart."

 

"Me too! I wish I didn't think this!"

 

Leo pulled him close and hugged him. "I wish I could make it go away, baby."

 

"I loved her so much, Leo. I would do anything for her."

 

"I know, honey."

 

"Why am I always fucked over? Why can't I just have one fucking break? Just one good thing?"

 

"I don't know." Leo's voice sounded sad.

 

Willie ran his thumb along Leo's eyebrow. Leo had a good face. "You're a good thing."

 

Leo kissed his cheek. "But you should have many. You deserve good things."

 

Willie sighed. He felt exhausted, but his stomach had stopped hurting. "So that's my big problem. Don't you wish you didn't know?"

 

Leo held both his hands. "It's awful, but it's good you told me."

 

"Will you do me a favor?"

 

"Anything."

 

"You know how in the dining room I got her and your mom, with the Virgin and the candle?" Leo nodded. "Can you take the moms down? I know your mom didn't do nothing bad, but she'll remind me too."

 

"I'll take down the Virgin and the candle too if you want?"

 

Willie shook his head. "That's bad luck. And I, I'll think of something to put there."

 

"I can frame some old photos of us?"

 

Willie shook his head. "No." He felt himself blushing, but he'd already said so much that he might as well say this. "That's for our wedding picture, when we get one."

 

Monday night

Leo sipped his beer and reread Willie’s letter. He must have read it forty times today.

 

Dear Papa,

So I found your letter. I don’t know if it still counts this morning? Maybe cuz we talked last night? So now you feel better? Anyway, I am real sorry about everything. You are probably sick of me saying sorry; I am getting sick of saying it too; I never mean to be such a fuckup. I’m sorry I’m hard to talk to. You should just smack me and tell me you are trying to talk to me and then I’ll listen. If you want to know my problems I will tell you but you will get really bored and depressed with them, cuz I am even bored and depressed by them, so I was just trying not to drag you down with my shit. I’m sorry for all the bad things I done to you. I am sorry I tried what I did try. It wasn’t your fault. I misunderstood you, I guess. I was just stupid. Just forget it. Thank you for taking me to the hospital and fixing me up. I forgot all about that thing with that other guy already. I forgave you already. I overreacted. I’m never gonna think about it again. You should just forget about that too.

I AM NOT MAD AT YOU, LEO!

Also, you are totally fucking hot. And you kinda know it. But I’ll give you more compliments if you want.

I don’t have any sex complaints. You are doing everything right. You are very good to me that way. I never want anyone else. I will do anything you want. I don’t care what it is so long as it’s with you. You can be hard or gentle or whatever you feel like. I am sorry for not being enough of what you want. If you just tell me, I will do it. I am honored to make love to you whenever you want.

I’m sorry I don’t talk enough; I don’t got that much to say. Erica used to say I should read more books, remember she was always reading some book? If you want I will read some and then I can tell you the stories. What kind of stories do you like? Westerns? I can read some and then get a cowboy hat and tell you the story. Then we can act it out. I will be a horse and you can ride me LOL. I’m sorry to joke around in a serious letter. I will go to couples therapy with you if you want, Leo. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. I got no secrets from you. Sometimes I am just quiet. But I am always glad when you sit near me. I like being with you. I feel settled down.

I’m sorry I caused so much problems. Thank you for writing me a letter. It is not gay at all (no bad meaning). Letters are cool. I am going out to look for a job. I will be home later. Do not worry about me. Remember you said I could have a job again? If I find one and you don’t like it I will quit it so don’t worry, it’s not a big deal, I just woke up early and wanted something to do. There are toaster waffles in the freezer. Love love love love love and also lust lust lust lust lust, Willie and Bill and Guillermo and your baby.

 

He’d been sitting here for an hour. He should go see if those jerks were back in their office. The shit he did for Willie.

 

This time there was a light on inside the frosted glass door. The small lettering said Dignity – NY. Leo knocked. There was a buzzing sound and he jumped, then turned the doorknob.

 

“How can I help you?” sang out a small blond man sitting at a reception desk. Behind him, to one side, was a Virgin statue covered in rainbow flags. Leo gaped at it. The blond laughed and said, “How do you like our May altar?”

 

Leo frowned. Crazy religious people. He put his hand in his pocket and touched Willie’s letter. “Hi. I need to have a gay Catholic wedding. For two men. With a priest.”

 

The blond stared at him for a minute and then almost professionally said, “Please have a seat.” Leo sat down in one of the upholstered chairs along the wall. “Please wait,” the blond said. He disappeared into the inner office. Leo looked around the waiting room. There were posters of people holding hands and lots of “power of love” quotes and quite a few AIDS activism posters. He tried not to look at the virgin statue again. He hoped Willie wouldn’t start putting statues around. The opposite wall had a bulletin board with photographs. Leo crossed the room to see better. There were wedding pictures! Men getting married. In front of a priest. That was what he needed.

 

He turned when the inner door opened and pointed at the bulletin board. “Like that! That’s what I’m looking for.”

 

A short dark bearded man in jeans and a t-shirt approached, smiling. He held out his hand. “Hi. I’m Alan. I’m sort of running this chapter at the moment. What’s your name?”

 

“Leo.”

 

“Are you Catholic, Leo?”

 

“No. My boyfriend is. Um, my partner. He really is. So I want to get him a church wedding.”

 

“What parish does your partner belong to?”

 

Leo frowned. “I don’t know. He goes to the one in our neighborhood. The priest knows him.”

 

“OK, could you have a seat, please?”

 

Leo sat. He felt like this wasn’t going that smoothly. “I don’t really care where the wedding is. As long as it’s got a priest at it, that’s good enough to make him happy.” Alan sat down next to him and handed him a few brochures. Leo knew he wasn’t going to get what he wanted here.

 

Alan asked, “How much do you actually know about Catholicism, Leo?”

 

Leo shrugged. “Not much.”

 

“Would you be willing to convert?”

 

“Why? Catholics don’t have to marry Catholics.”

 

“Well, it’s not as simple as that. A gay Catholic marriage is a big deal. There are a lot of professional risks for some people, and a lot of important symbolism, so it takes planning and commitment. You can’t just order one up like you reserve a hall. So here. Take these. This one is about gay marriages and this one lists all our masses. You and your partner should start going to our masses and meeting the community. Then you’ll be in a better position to decide if you want to proceed, and you’ll know who to ask.” He stood up and held out his hand again. “Good luck.”

 

Leo looked at the pamphlets. “He’s gotta go to the city?” He felt outraged.

 

“Jesus gave his whole life,” Alan intoned.

 

Leo bit back a sacrilege and stood up. “Thanks for the information.”

 

It was a long commute home and no surprise to bring Willie. Leo picked up some flowers at the bodega as a poor substitute.

 

 

 

 

Leo stopped short outside their apartment when he heard the laughter. Willie was laughing. Another voice was doing a bad impression of Captain Kirk, something about transporter mix-ups. Leo closed his eyes for a second and listened to Willie laugh. His throat felt tight suddenly and he took a deep breath. If he walked in there looking emotional he’d ruin the whole mood. It was just so great to hear a happy Willie sound.

 

Leo knocked gently on the door before sliding his key in. He didn’t want to seem to burst in on them. Before he could turn the key, the door flew open and Willie’s arms latched around his neck. He was talking too fast and all Leo could catch was his name, over and over. Leo grinned at him. “You’re crushing your flowers. Stop talking a second and kiss me.”

 

Willie shoved Leo’s arm to the side, so he was holding the flowers out in midair. They kissed softly, but Leo whined when Willie would have stopped and kissed him a moment longer. Finally he stopped and gently bopped Willie in the head with the bouquet of carnations and daisies. “These are for you.”

 

“Gracias, papi.” Willie smiled and reached for them. “Did you hear what I said before?”

 

“No. Say it again slowly.” Leo eased out of his backpack.

 

“I got a job at the library. Joe helped me. You remember Joe? So I invited him here for dinner. Come say hello to him.”

 

“That’s great, baby,” Leo smiled. He tried to picture Willie in a library and failed. It didn’t really matter. He noticed Willie already had the dining room table set for three. He walked through to the kitchen and there was that Joe guy from the street that horrible Sunday. “Joe. Nice to see you again.”

 

Joe stood up from his seat at the kitchen table and extended his hand. “Leo. Nice to see you. Will invited me for supper.”

 

Leo shook hands quickly. “Well, it’s your lucky day cuz he’s a good cook. What are you makin’, honey?”

 

“Chicken and rice.”

 

Leo scanned the counter. “How did you get that salad chopped?”

 

Willie looked nervous. “Joe chopped it for me. I didn’t touch any knives.”

 

“I thought I locked that lockbox.”

 

Willie rolled his eyes. “You always hide keys the same way, Leo.”

 

Leo glared at him. “Don’t roll your eyes at me. You know why you can’t touch the knives.”

 

“I didn’t.” Willie sounded a little impatient. “Can we just eat now?”

 

Leo saw that Joe had discreetly drifted into the dining room. He took a deep breath. “Sure, Willie. Just don’t give me attitude when I’m doing stuff for your own protection.”

 

Willie’s face moved into a neutral expression. “I’m sorry. We’ve been waiting for you to eat and I’m really hungry.”

 

Leo squeezed Willie’s arm and released him. “You want me to carry anything in?”

 

“You could bring the salad?” Leo nodded. “Thanks, papi. I’m gonna put my pretty flowers in water.”

 

Leo brought the salad into the dining room. Joe turned away from the picture of the virgin and smiled politely. Leo said, “Have a seat, Joe.”

 

“I’m almost ready!” Willie yelled from the kitchen. “Leo, can you come get the flowers and put them on the sideboard for me?”

 

Leo fetched the flowers and put them on the bureau. “It’s really just a bureau,” he said to Joe.

 

Joe shrugged. “It’s multifunctional.”

 

Leo didn’t know why Joe was making him uncomfortable, but he was. Willie came in carrying a platter of artfully arranged chicken covered in sauce on a bed of yellow rice. Leo sat down and tried to look pleasant. The food looked too spicy but it would look rude to get up and get a bowl of cereal in front of company. Willie dashed back to the kitchen and returned with a foil-covered plate that he put next to Leo’s place. Then he sat down.

 

Leo said, “What—“

 

Willie interrupted him. “Joe, would you like to say grace?”

 

Joe smiled and bowed his head and held his hands together, eyes closed. Willie did likewise. Leo put his hands together but took the chance to admire Willie’s cuteness. He looked like one of those praying angels people put on Christmas cards, only with five o’clock shadow and bitten fingernails. Grace seemed to be going on for a long time. Leo heard something about thanking god for friends and work and fellowship. He hoped there was not going to be godtalk at the table. Willie said this Joe guy was a friend, and he seemed to have gotten him work of some kind, but Leo thought he bore watching. Finally he stopped praying and they could eat. Willie spooned some brightly sauced chicken onto Joe’s plate along with big helpings of yellow rice, and passed him the salad bowl. “Now, Leo.”

 

“What?”

 

Willie opened the foil-covered dish. “I have plain chicken and plain rice here for you, with the onion soup mix like you like. But I’m just gonna put just a little spicy chicken on your plate so you can try it for me, OK?”

 

Leo felt torn between annoyance at being talked down to and gratitude that there was plain food for him that he liked. Gratitude won. “Sure, Willie. I’ll try it.”

 

“OK, good. I know you don’t always like spicy, but just taste it.” Leo didn’t even like the smell of it. He put a little of the rice in his mouth and hastily added some of his own. Willie shook his head and patted his arm, smiling. “No, it’s OK. You don’t have to if you don’t like it, Leo.”

 

Leo thought carefully. This might be one of those metaphor conversations. Food was very important to Willie and symbolized lots of stuff. Why was this new guy here for dinner anyway? Leo cleared his throat. “You know I love your cooking, Willie.”

 

Willie smiled. “I know. No problemo, papa. No one likes everything. I only made this because Joe says he can never get good Mexican, but I think he just don’t know where to look.”

 

Joe said, “How would I know to look in your kitchen? This is delicious, Will.”

 

Willie smiled. Leo thought how nice it was to see Willie look pleased about something he’d done. Even if it was cooking weird stuff. Willie said, “Well, I’m not the only one who makes it! You gotta look around!”

 

“I don’t speak Spanish,” Joe said.

 

“You don’t gotta speak it. You just point at the menu,” Willie advised.

 

“Do you have restaurant recommendations?” Joe asked.

 

Willie glanced at Leo and then back at Joe. “Not really, cuz we don’t go to Latino places too much.”

 

“Do you dislike all spicy food, Leo, or just Latino food?”

 

Leo chewed and swallowed his yummy onion rice. This guy was annoying. Probably not as annoying as his own friends, he reminded himself. “I don’t got no big food rule,” he said. “Willie, do we got any beer?”

 

Willie bit his lip then stood up. “Sure. Joe?”

 

“If you are,” Joe answered.

 

Willie left the table. Leo stared at the salt and pepper shakers and tried to think of something to say. Something besides “keep your hands off my husband.” He had no business being jealous of Willie’s friend from church. “So, you’re a librarian?”

 

“Yes, I am. What’s your job?”

 

“I’m an orderly at the hospital.”

 

“That’s hard work.”

 

Leo shrugged. Did that mean he was just a dumb muscle guy? “Them books must get heavy,” he answered.

 

Joe laughed. “Some days they do, Leo.”

 

Leo hadn’t meant to make him laugh. Willie appeared again with three beers and three glasses on a tray. Leo bit his tongue to keep from remarking on the glasses. He hadn’t seen Willie drink a beer out of a glass since he’d moved in. Willie distributed the drinks and said very casually, “We like that place where we had brunch with Pat and Marilyn. That had Latino food, though it was a lot of, like, island food more than Mexican. What’s that place called, Leo? With the plastic monkeys in the drinks?”

 

“Sunny Day Café?”

 

“Is that what it’s called? God, that’s awful.” Willie smiled at Joe. “I didn’t know it was called that. It’s nice inside.”

 

“I think they deliver, too,” Leo said. “We got a menu somewhere.”

 

“But it doesn’t seem like a take-out place,” Willie clarified. “There’s waiters and stuff.”

 

Joe smiled at both of them. “I don’t know why you would need menus when Will can cook like this. Where did you learn to cook, Will? Did your mother teach you?”

 

Willie got up and carried the drinks tray back to the kitchen.

 

Joe looked disconcerted. Leo struggled against his impulse to be unhelpful. He was supposed to be helping Willie. Quietly he said, “His mom’s a bad subject.”

 

“Why?” Joe asked.

 

Leo stood up. “I’m not gonna discuss it with you. I just don’t want you upsetting him. Excuse me.” He raised his voice and headed for the kitchen. “Willie?”

 

Willie was rinsing the tray unnecessarily, staring out the window. Leo walked up behind him and wrapped his arms around his waist. “Go back in there and talk to your friend. I’ll clean up out here.” Willie leaned back against him. Leo kissed his neck. “Go on. You’re OK. He didn’t mean nothing.”

 

“Will you make us coffee?” Willie asked. “I got pastries from the bakery. You could put them on a plate?”

 

“Alright, honey. I’ll take care of it.” He skated his fingers over a ticklish spot near Willie’s waist. “Where do you keep the doilies? And the fingerbowls?”

 

Willie squirmed but he smiled and turned around. “You just got no class, Leo Handler.”

 

“OK. Go talk to him before he thinks we’re weirder.” Willie kissed his cheek loudly and hurried back to the dining room. Leo heard an exaggerated explanation about a treacherous, tricky coffee pot that was too hard for him, so big strong Leo would take care of it. He smirked to himself and started the coffee. He had to admit that Willie was making his married status very clear to this guy. So maybe they were just friends after all. Though he would bet money that Joe guy would like more than that, big prayer of gratitude or not.

 

 

Joe was talking about bookstores in the city. Willie was trying to remember if he’d ever been in a bookstore. He might have gone into one downtown once to use the bathroom. Joe had opinions about which bookstores were better. Willie thought he must be missing the point. “But what difference does it make where you buy the book? It’s the same book, right? There’s not, like, different versions for different stores? Like, a clean version and an explicit version?”

 

“Well, it’s not just about the book; it’s about the local literary community.” Joe sounded kind of emotional, but Willie had no idea why. Joe must have seen so on his face, because he explained more. “Independent bookstores serve the community. They promote local authors. They have events, like poetry readings.”

 

Leo came in with the coffee, not a moment too soon as far as Willie was concerned. He winked at Willie. “Are we going to a poetry reading? Wait, I’ll be right back with dessert.”

 

Willie glared after him. He’d never been to a poetry reading, but he didn’t like the sound of it. “No,” he shouted. “Joe’s explaining something.”

 

Leo came back with a beautiful tray of cannoli and a small stack of plates. Joe sipped his coffee thoughtfully. “What are you explaining, Joe?” Leo asked.

 

“I was talking about bookstores, but it might be time for a change of subject.”

 

Leo smiled. “Have a cannoli. So, Willie, what’s your new job going to be?”

 

Willie put down the cannoli in his hand. He hoped Leo wasn’t going to laugh at him. “It’s kinda, well, I’m just gonna help at the library.”

 

“It’s kinda what?”

 

Willie looked at Joe, who seemed to be enjoying his pastry. Joe seemed so calm all the time. “It’s sorta geeky. I’m gonna, y’know, put away books and check out books to people and stuff like that. It’s like a store, only with no money. And there’s some kinda numbering system I gotta learn, but Joe’s gonna explain it on Monday. And I can learn the computers more.”

 

“Well, that sounds good. What does a job like that pay?”

 

“Nine bucks an hour.”

 

Leo shrugged. “Nothing wrong with that.”

 

Joe finished off his cannoli and wiped his mouth. “You gonna tell him the rest?”

 

Willie glared at him. Joe should learn when to shut up. Leo looked like he was waiting for an explanation. “I’ll tell you later, Leo.”

 

“OK,” Leo said. He looked very patient, but Willie knew that once Leo looked patient, he was almost out of patience.

 

“I didn’t know it was an issue,” Joe pretended to apologize.

 

Leo stood up and stretched and yawned. “God! Excuse me. I’ve had a really long day. I hate to be a party pooper, but I’m wiped, and it’s getting kind of late. Joe, it was great to see you. I’m sure we’ll see more of each other now you’re working with Willie.” He leaned across the table and shook Joe’s hand, then he turned to Willie. “Baby, I’m turning in. Don’t be too long, ok? Leave the dishes for the morning.” He leaned down and kissed Willie’s mouth gently, and then his cheek. He whispered “love you” in Willie’s ear, ruffled his hair, and left the room. The shower started a minute later.

 

Joe stood up. “I guess I should get going.”

 

Willie stood up. “He gets up really early for work,” he explained.

 

“Well, don’t we all. OK, well, thanks for dinner. It was fabulous. And I’ll see you on Monday.”

 

“Absolutely. Ten AM,” Willie smiled. He got Joe’s jacket from the hallway – a grey sports coat -- and handed it over. “I’m looking forward to it. Thank you, Joe.”

 

Joe put on his jacket and patted the pockets. “Oh!”

 

“What?”

 

Joe handed him a yellow postcard. “Here’s your independent bookstore explanation. If you’re not doing anything Sunday night, come to my poetry reading. It’s at Knickerbocker Books, near the college.”

 

“You run a poetry reading?”

 

“No, I’m reading my poetry at one. Not just me. Also some other poets.”

 

Willie took the postcard and looked it over quickly. It wasn’t very enlightening. “Are you gonna rap or something?”

 

Joe sighed and shrugged his coat tighter around himself, stepping backwards. “No. No, I’m not gonna rap or something. I am going to read actual poetry that I actually wrote. You can be a black poet and not rap!”

 

“OK!” Willie heard himself sound squeaky. “I only asked. I didn’t mean nothing.”

 

Joe shrugged and sighed again. “You’re not gonna come anyway.”

 

Willie stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He hated when people tried to guilt trip him. “I would have to check with my husband,” he said. “He may have plans. I mean, that’s this weekend.”

 

Joe frowned. “I know, I know, you’re right.” He brightened. “You can tell me at church on Sunday.”

 

“OK then,” Willie said. He took a step towards the door.

 

Joe started to follow, but then stopped by the sideboard and stared at the pictures on the wall again. “Who are those little kids? Are they yours? Or Leo’s?”

 

Willie stared at the wall. He hadn’t noticed before. Leo had taken down the mother pictures and hung the picture of the two of them holding hands on the sofa, aged about seven. Their chubby grubby little hands made him smile. “That’s us, me and Leo.”

 

Joe stared and something changed around his mouth. Willie didn’t know him well enough to say what emotion it was though. “You’ve known him a long time.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Well, good night.”

 

“Good night, Joey. See you Sunday at Mass, maybe, if I get outta bed.”

 

Willie shut the door and looked around the dining room. He took the cannolis out to the kitchen and stored them safely in the fridge. Then he hurried to the bedroom, peeling off his clothes as he went.

 

Leo was watching TV in bed, but he muted it when Willie flopped down next to him and turned to him for a hug. “He gone now?”

 

“Yep.”

 

Leo kissed him. “I’m proud of you.”

 

Willie sat up. “For what?”

 

“For everything. Getting a job. Making friends. Cooking good food.”

 

Willie flopped onto his back. “I ain’t that good at shit.”

 

Leo turned the TV off and moved to lay his head on Willie’s shoulder. Willie loved how he smelled, and his smooth skin, and his solid weight. “What couldn’t you tell me about your job?” Leo asked.

 

“Oh, that!” Willie stared at the ceiling and wondered how to explain it. He stroked Leo’s back. “Supposedly to get this job, I have to be going to school. So now I gotta apply to community college, but just for one course, and maybe they can chip in some money towards it, I don’t know.” He looked at Leo. “Maybe it’s not gonna work out. I don’t know.”

 

Leo’s snuggled against him. “Why wouldn’t it work out?”

 

“I don’t know about that school shit. I got no interest. And you’re the smart one. You go to school. I don’t wanna copy you.”

 

“You don’t wanna go?”

 

“Can you see me sitting there in a classroom listening to that bullshit?”

 

Leo rubbed his arm. “Can you see me? What’s the difference? You sit, you take notes, it’s school, that’s all. You’re good at school.”

 

“But it’d be your school.”

 

“Ain’t got my name on it. Anyway, I’m only going there for one more semester.”

 

“It won’t look like I’m just following you?”

 

“No one will even connect you to me unless we tell them.”

 

“But what’s the point of one course? It’s a waste of time.”

 

Leo rubbed his chest. “You can take one to start out and see if you like it.”

 

“I’m not gonna like it.”

 

Leo let go and turned onto his back. He squeezed Willie’s hand and interlaced their fingers. “Y’know, it ain’t all school subjects.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Well, they got job training. They got automotive and cooking and music recording. They even got, like, hotel industry classes.”

 

“That’s what you want me to take?”

 

“No! I’m just sayin’, it might not be a waste.”

 

“I guess. I guess I just don’t like it being part of a job.”

 

Leo turned onto his side and stared at Willie. “You don’t have to take that job. You can change your mind.”

 

“No, it’s a decent job.”

 

“Well, if you don’t like it, I won’t get mad if you quit, OK?”

 

Willie kissed his forehead. “You don’t like him.”

 

“I barely know him.”

 

“He invited us to a poetry reading.”

 

Leo snorted. “I think he invited you to a poetry reading.”

 

Willie shrugged. “I think it’s, like, poetry he wrote himself.”

 

Leo kissed his shoulder. “I think it’s all love poems about you.”

 

“We’re just friends!”

 

“I know, I know. But don’t you think he got a crush on you though?”

 

Willie snorted. “No. He knows I’m with you.”

 

“Well, he can’t help his feelings.”

 

Willie didn’t know what to say to that. He’d had a crush on that Joey kid, the young one, from the New Year’s party. It hadn’t meant anything compared to how he felt about Leo though. He wanted to be clear that he didn’t want to cheat, but he didn’t want to sound like he was throwing Leo’s cheating in his face again. “Should I go to the poetry reading?”

 

“Do you want to?”

 

“No. It sounds boring.”

 

“Then don’t go.”

 

“He might be mad.”

 

Leo stroked his face. “Well, if he is, he’s overreacting. You want me to say you can’t go, so it’ll be my fault instead of yours?”

 

“No. It’s not your fault, Leo. He can blame me.”

 

“It shouldn’t be about blaming.”

 

Willie turned and put his hands on Leo’s chest. “If I’m gonna work for him, we gotta have some boundaries.”

 

Leo smiled. “That’s right.”

 

“So I’m not going.”

 

“OK.”

 

“He can read to me at work if he wants, let me get paid for it.”

 

Leo snickered. “You’re like a poetry whore.”

 

“Yeah?” Willie rubbed his thumbs thoughtfully over Leo’s nipples. Leo shivered. Willie sat up and reached over him to the nightstand and rummaged in the drawer. The velcro handcuffs were tangled up in his rosary beads, but he managed to separate them. He knelt up and dug his knee into Leo’s hip. “Roll over and get your hands over your head.”

 

“What?”

 

“I feel like fuckin’ ya. Fuckin’ cooperate.” Willie smoothed Leo’s hair reassuringly. Leo liked to be dominated, but he didn’t like to be scared or mistreated. He has too much self-respect, Willie thought.

 

“I don’t know,” Leo whined.

 

“You better make up your mind to it or I’ll get the nipple clamps,” Willie said.

 

“No! No!” Leo flopped over on his stomach. He sounded excited. Willie was glad, because he didn’t even have nipple clamps. He stretched up and velcroed Leo’s wrists together. “Wait!” Leo yelled. “Mexico!”

 

Willie knelt by his head. “What, Leo?”

 

“Don’t tie me!”

 

“Sweetie, they’re velcro, remember?” Willie loudly ripped the cuffs open, the pressed them shut again. Leo was breathing heavily. “I just want your hands outta the way while I’m pounding into your ass.”

 

Leo moaned and put his head down, and Willie took that as permission. He looped the light chain between the cuffs over the handle screwed into the side of the sleighbed’s headboard. Leo thought he’d spoiled a good piece of furniture with his kinky add-ons, but Willie felt like they’d got the bed for cheap so why not experiment? Leo looked really good stretched out like that; Willie slid a hand down Leo’s ribs and waist and over his muscular butt. Leo’s butt was so perfect it could be on TV. Willie leaned down and bit one cheek gently, sawing his teeth a little. Leo whined. Willie stood up and got one of Leo’s ties from the closet and straddled his panting husband. He wrapped the tie over Leo’s eyes for a blindfold, knotting it behind his head. Leo yanked his head away, whining more loudly. Willie stretched out on top of him and whispered in his ear. “Shush, now. Cooperate, Leonard. You feel how hard I am? That’s what you’re gettin’, and there’s no gettin’ out of it, so you may as well try to enjoy it.” He stretched over to the nightstand, grabbed the lube, and coated his fingers, then slid one inside Leo. Leo shook against him. Willie pressed his face against Leo’s shoulder and took a deep breath and refocused. “Leonard!” He made his voice soft and husky. “Leonard, that’s one finger. What are you gonna do when it’s my huge dick?”

 

“Do it!” Leo moaned. He squirmed beneath Willie.

 

“Oh, is this turning you on, baby? Are you hard for me?” Leo nodded. “Say it, Leonard.”

 

“You turn me on. You make me hard. Willie!”

 

“You be patient, Leonard. You be as hard as you like, you ain’t puttin’ it in nothin’ tonight. Tonight, I’m doing all the fucking. Maybe if you cooperate I’ll get you off though.”

 

“Hurry!” Leo whined.

 

Willie slid two more fingers into Leo and moved them knowingly. Leo’s breath began to rasp. “We can’t hurry, honey, cuz you know how delicate you are, and you need me to go slow and not hurt you.”

 

“Fuckin’ tease!”

 

Willie yanked his fingers out and smacked Leo’s ass. Leo yelled so he smacked a few more times, aiming for maximum sting. “That’s not a cooperative attitude, Leonard.”

 

“Stop it!”

 

“You stop your bad behavior! You stop trying to give orders!” Abruptly, Leo went still and silent. Willie frowned. “Don’t you dare sulk, Leonard.”

 

Leo muttered something that ended in “sir.”

 

Willie moved to lie beside him. He loosened the silk tie and slid it off Leo’s head. “Shhh. It’s OK. It’s gonna be good.” He kissed Leo gently. Leo kissed back hungrily. Willie grabbed his pillow and nudged Leo’s hip. “C’mon, papi, stick your pretty butt up.” He slid the pillow under Leo and knelt between his legs, grabbing his hips. “Here we go, baby.” He added more lube and sank into him. Leo was tight and hot but unresisting. He grunted like Willie had his full attention. Leo certainly had his; Willie couldn’t remember anything hotter than spreading and claiming Leo’s round white ass, Leo’s pale back sloping away from him. Willie picked up his rhythm. Leo’s grunting kept time for him, longer and louder when he went slower and deeper. He could smell Leo now, their sweat and sex in the air like a cloud around them, like the smell of home. Leo’s grunting seemed too rhythmic so Willie shifted position slightly and changed angles, eliciting new moans. Something loosened in Leo’s hips and he started thrusting backwards, whispering. It sounded like “fuck, fuck.”

 

Feeling Leo moving beneath him was mindblowing. Willie felt crazy. He braced his feet against the mattress and tried to go deeper. Leo yelled. Willie wished his cum was like spray paint, and he could just tag Leo as his own. He felt his fingernails biting into soft skin and forced his hands off Leo’s waist. He reached for Leo’s hair instead but Leo seemed to tighten around him and suck him in and he was lost, washed up on the shore of Leo’s back, blank and breathing hard.

 

 

Something changed; Willie’s eyes flew open and he stared into the darkness. Leo had moved beneath him; he was still inside him. He reached up and stroked Leo’s hair. Lips grazed his fingers. “Want me to move?” Willie croaked.

 

“In a minute,” Leo whispered.

 

“You OK, baby?”

 

“I’m fuckin’ excellent, Willie.”

 

“Good. Me too.” Willie kissed his back, shifted carefully, and withdrew. Leo shivered, and Willie yanked a sheet up over him. He felt exhausted, but he crawled to the head of the bed and unfastened the velcro cuffs, glad that Leo had waited for him to do it. He unwrapped Leo’s wrists gently, rubbing his skin, and kissed the palms of his hands. “I love you, Leo.”

 

Leo’s arms slid smoothly around his shoulders. “I love you too, Will.”

 

“I’m gonna have to share your pillow.”

 

“Yeah, share with me, baby.”

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