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Apparently, there was yet another hurricane hitting the coast of New Zealand. Scenes of devastation, fleeing refugees, and blowing cars played on the screen, while a reporter in a slicker, clearly still in a studio, reported statistics and updates.
Dre couldn’t stop laughing. The screen cut to live footage again, and a fluffy white dog was seen flying through the air while its frantic owner chased after it, trying to grab its leash. Dre nearly spilled his drink as he collapsed against the bar, shaking and trying to catch his breath.
“What’s the matter with you?” one of the patrons demanded, staring at him in horror.
Dre grinned. The guy’s expression cracked him up again, and he signalled for another drink. The bar tender shook his head in resignation, then poured more gin. So far, Dre had sampled gin, whiskey, and brandy, and he had to admit he was partial to the gin. He felt happy. He could stay here forever, watching the news and drinking, and not worrying about his stupid sisters or his stupid ex-boyfriends or his stupid business. It was all just stupid stupid. He didn’t know why he even bothered trying. Drinking was easier. Dancing was more fun.
“Dance with me!” he called to the stranger, putting out a hand. The guy just looked at him in disgust.
“Come on,” Dre groaned. “I love this song. Ssss….Sleeping…”
“Sleeping at Last,” said another stranger. “I’ll dance with you!”
Barely managing to keep his feet under him, Dre fell into a pair of beefy arms. A college kid, from the looks of him. He resembled Jay, not so much in looks but in attitude. Carefree. Completely focused on the present, and himself, and no stupid heads who didn’t seem to care how hard he’s trying.
“Want to get out of here?” The stranger asked, and Dre didn’t even have to think about his answer.
“Only if you’re coming with me.” Okay, so maybe that was a lame attempt at flirting, but he decided anything was fair game when he was a little tipsy. Everyone had been right all along. He shouldn’t have bothered trying to be anything more than he was. He’d never gotten the chance to be a stupid kid. Well, no time like the present.
“Can I cut in?”
The voice slid into his drunken fog, and Dre stiffened. Turning, he beheld Fletcher. There he was, in all of his tousle-haired, hipster glory, watching Dre and his partner with an unreadable expression. He wants to dance with me? Instantly, the college kid was forgotten.
“Sure,” Dre breathed.
“Hey!” said the stranger as Dre shook out of his hold and reached for Fletcher. “Weren’t you and I going to take this somewhere else?”
Dre didn’t even answer as Fletcher took him firmly by the arm and led him off. “Hey! I thought we were going to dance!” Dre whined, nearly stumbling as the floor loomed a little closer than he’d initially thought.
“Are you crazy, Andre?” Fletcher hissed, and Dre took pause at the anger there.
Fletcher shook him a little, which didn’t help with the topsy-turvy world inside Dre’s head. “You were about to take off with a stranger! Who knows what could have happened to you!”
“Nothing would have happened that I didn’t want. I know what I’m doing.”
“I doubt it. You both looked pretty drunk to me.”
“I’m not drunk. Just…just a little tipsy, is all.”
They reached the exit, and Fletcher pulled him into the damp air. Dre wasn’t sure why he continued to let Fletcher drag him around, other than the fact that he couldn’t bring himself to break the contact between them. Fletcher looked at him again, and Dre struggled to read his face. Impossible at the best of times.
“Mom sent me to get you, but you’re definitely not fit to go home.”
“I’m plenty fit!” Dre tapped his chest, and he thought that he saw Fletcher crack a smile. Finally! The guy really needed to lighten up.
“I’m taking you back to my place,” Fletcher decided, then shot a warning look as Dre perked up. “Just so that you can sober up and not scare the twins. They’re worried about you.”
Dre waved his hand, and Fletcher ducked to avoid being slapped in the face. Whoops. “They’re not worried. They want your parents to adopt them. I figure, why not? I’m doing a crap job anyway.” Unbidden tears suddenly stung his eyes, and he hung his head.
Sighing, Fletcher put his arm around Dre’s waist and started pulling him across the parking lot. “Let’s go, big guy. I think you’re mostly made of booze right now, and you need a shower.”
Dre figured something must be wrong with him, because even the thought of showering at Fletcher’s flat did nothing for him. All he could think of was Sam’s little witch face as she threw everything he had ever tried to do for her back in his face. The little girl he loved so much wanted nothing to do with him, and he wasn’t sure where he’d gone wrong. Where had he turned left when he should have turned right? Where had the path diverged from run-of-the-mill spats and tantrums to the imminent split-up of his family?
“I should have known I couldn’t be what they needed,” Dre wept as Fletcher guided him up the stairs to his second-level flat. “Everyone told me to back off. I should have known they’d want to leave me eventually.”
Fletcher shut the door behind them. “You can put your shoes there. Here, let’s put your jacket in the closet.”
Barely aware of what he was doing, Dre undressed and then flopped on Fletcher’s too-comfy couch. “Everyone leaves,” he wept. “No one will stay with me.”
“Have some water.” Fletcher moved Dre’s feet, then sat at the other end of the couch. “Andre, things seem bad right now, but I promise they’ll look better in the morning. I’ll stay with you.”
With a groan, Dre sat up, then nearly tumbled into Fletcher, who steadied him by the arms. “Sorry,” Dre mumbled, his head swimming for a different reason now. Fletcher glanced down at the place where he gripped Dre’s bicep, bare below the edge of his dark green tee-shirt.
Was he mistaken, or did Fletcher’s voice seem unsteady? Dre realized how close they were, sitting there on the couch in the low light. He couldn’t quite see the colour in Fletcher’s eyes, but he could see the path they took from his hands and then back up to his face. Quite without meaning to, he touched the side of Fletcher’s jaw, intrigued by the stubble there. And then, also without meaning to, he leaned forward and brushed his lips there, until he found the spot he was looking for.
A shuddering breath pushed into Dre’s mouth as their lips met, and the hands on his arms flew to his shoulders with a painful, heart-stopping grip. With Fletcher’s jaw in both his hands to pull him closer, Dre closed his eyes and gave in to all the pent-up longing from years of wanting something that had been so out of reach. His dreamy, hazy world contained only the points of contact between their bodies and the deep, almost pained sounds coming from his mentor’s throat. He almost wept with relief as fingers nearly as desperate as his own dug into his hair. Fletcher had done everything for him. Always been there, no matter what. This was something Dre knew he could do well for this man that he cared about so deeply. Loved, even, in a way he had never felt for anyone else. In that moment, every moment where Dre had ever felt inadequate or unsure melted away. This was something he could do.
“You’ll stay with me?” he breathed.
“Dre.” The near-sob against his mouth brought him up short, and he pulled back to peer into Fletcher’s face. He was gasping for breath, clutching at the collar of Dre’s shirt with shaking hands. The shape of his eyes in the dimness was wide, so wide they looked like they were about to pop out of his head.
Worried, Dre touched those eyelashes that fluttered sporadically, as though trying to bring reality into focus. “What’s wrong, Fletch?” He felt like he was on a teeter-totter, vacillating between desire and concern. And a drunken haze.
Shaking his head as though trying to emerge from a dream, Fletcher pulled back and reached behind him, briefly exposing the skin under his sweater as he turned on a lamp. As the harsh brightness pierced Dre’s head, Fletcher stared, then kept staring. For a moment, Dre was too mesmerized to inquire further, lost in a crack in the space-time continuum that allowed him to stare without interruption. He liked what he saw. A lot.
“Andre, I…” Fletcher swallowed, hard. “You are drunk. I think we both need to get some sleep. Okay? I’ll take the couch, and you can have my bed.”
Dre ran his hand down his face, trying to understand. “Did I do something wrong? Did I hurt you?” He knew sometimes he got carried away, and wasn’t aware of his own strength. Then, of course, there was the matter that Fletcher had always been in somewhat of a position of authority. He felt sick at the thought that their kiss hadn’t been as good for Fletcher as it had been for him.
Compassion filled Fletcher’s expression. “No, no, it’s not that at all. Quite the opposite. It was quite lovely, as far as first kisses go, I just…I…I…” His thoughts seemed to completely unspool, knitting his brows as though he had forgotten what he was saying.
“First kiss?” Dre gaped, wondering if the alcohol was making him hear things.
Scratching his neck and looking down, Fletcher nodded reluctantly. “Yes.”
“You’re like, thirty years old.”
“Don’t remind me. I found a grey hair the other day.”
Those eyebrows went up. “Umm…”
“You’re nice,” Dre ticked off on his fingers, “and you’re extremely eligible. No other guys have tried to kiss you?”
He cleared his throat. “Well…at times, yes. Women, too. But…well, Andre, I can’t have relations with men.”
Ah. Right. Dre had almost forgotten about how narrow-minded Ruth and Ian were. Yet another reminder that they didn’t see Dre as their real family. They didn’t criticize Dre the way they did their own kids.
“I never thought you’d take that part of the religion so seriously. A man has needs, Fletcher, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Fletcher’s face heated, the colour in his skin making his eyes bluer. “I just don’t think it’s the right thing for me to do. I promise I’m not judging you, it’s just…not the lifestyle for me.”
Dre wrinkled his nose, but decided to let it go. He’d heard it all, and knew there wasn’t anything he could say to change years of brainwashing. All he could offer was the truth. “The last thing I want is to cause problems for you, Fletch. I just hope you know there’s nothing wrong with you. I’d hate for you to think you’re anything less than perfect.”
“Thank you.” Fletcher brightened. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you, and well, the topic has never come up until now….”
Dre smiled encouragingly. “Anything. I’d do anything for you.” It was true. He loved Fletcher more than anyone in the world, other than his sisters. He didn’t want to, but he also didn’t feel like he had a choice.
“Well…there’s going to be a presentation at church on Saturday, about the church and the trauma that it’s caused the queer community. It took me forever to get approval for this speaker, and I know you stopped coming to church because of how they treated you, and I’ve been wanting to ask you to go. Just, like, to get your opinion. I don’t know, it’s stupid. Jay’s going. You don’t have to…”
Fletcher’s acute discomfort was endearing. Dre laughed, then clasped his shoulder. “Sure, why not? If Jay’s going, it’s sure to be a riot.”
A wary glance. “You guys need to behave.”
“Don’t we always, Pastor O’Malley?”
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