Disclaimer: This story may contain sexual activities between two males. If this offends you, if you are too young to read it, or if it is illegal in your area Leave Now. All characters and places are a product of the author’s imagination and should not be mistaken for real anything. Comments/questions? Domluka@aol.com
Thanks to Jim for editing!
In The Fish Bowl
With one sweep of his eyes, Dennis took in the apartment he’d made the mistake of walking into, and without being invited, walked to the kitchen table--or more accurately, a card table in the middle of the kitchen--dropped the pizza so hard that sauce spurted out the side of the box, and then walked towards the dark-haired guy between him and the door as if he had no intention of stopping at all. He did, though, a cautious four feet away.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked, and Travis laughed.
“That’s right. You never did ask me what my name is. Don’t you think that’s a little...”
“I didn’t care,” Dennis informed him.
“Hmm. Fair enough. Travis. Beltnick. But, Travis is good enough. Do you wanna sit down?”
“I’ll pay you to sit down.”
Dennis seemed to consider this, but then shook his head, even if he did seem more curious than he had a moment ago. “What do you want, Travis?”
“A rematch, actually.”
Dennis laughed this time, but there was no humor behind it. “You want to fight?”
Travis frowned, shaking his head as if he’d failed to make a point somewhere, and suddenly moved away from the door, grabbing Dennis’s tense arm as if it were an everyday occurrence before he more or less led him towards the futon. “No. No, not like that. I’m talking about a match. Kind of. Anything goes sort of thing.”
Dennis sat on the uncomfortable sofa only because he felt forced to, and found himself gawking at Travis, who’d ended up on the other end of it. “Anything? You want me to kill you this time, then?”
Travis snorted. “Just because you cracked my ribs once doesn’t mean I won’t surprise you later. “Look, you’re here because you’re the first person I thought of and...”
“I’m... honored?... Is there anyone I should call for you? I mean, are you on medication or anything like that?”
Not bothered by the remarks, but looking impatient, Travis ignored them. “It’s not like I’m asking you to do this for nothing. One of the guys I work for...”
“Someone actually pays you to be a dumbass?”
“No. I happen to accomplish that all on my own,” Travis said proudly. “I meant one of my legitimate employers. He’s strapped for cash. I might have put an idea or two in his head... but anyway, he wants to put something together for some of his friends. Rich idiots. It’ll be fun for them, my boss’ll get to bet on me and make some extra cash, and we get to split the admission fees sixty-forty. I get more ‘cause it was my idea, but you’ll still make a hell of a lot more than you do delivering pizzas.”
For an endless minute, Dennis observed Travis as he would a book that had a compelling cover, only to open it and decide that it was too much for him. Standing slowly, not really wanting to make any sudden movements, he started heading for the door, but Travis was on his feet in an instant.
“Okay, okay. Fifty-fifty,” Travis bargained.
“No.” Dennis moved faster, and Travis kept up. Though, this time he made no attempt to stop him.
“Hey, I get this is kinda a strange conversation to have at six in the morning, but if you’d just think...”
“It’s a strange conversation to have any time,” Dennis corrected.
“... but I’m not jacking you around here.” At the last moment, Travis stepped between Dennis and the door. “Okay, okay... I can’t do better than fifty-fifty, but what about a new car? You could use an upgrade, right? I can get you a deal. The guy I work for owns a dealership.”
Dennis stopped suddenly, and when his expression changed entirely into something that Travis couldn’t put his finger on, he felt a sense of accomplishment, because good or bad, he had Dennis’s attention.
“I mean it, I’ll hook you up tomorrow,” Travis said quickly. “How about something you’re not gonna slide all over the road in? Or...”
“Which dealership?” Dennis asked, now seeming less sarcastic and more serious.
Travis raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t there only one in town?”
Dennis’s eyes dropped, hiding his thoughts. “Yeah. There is.”
“Well, this fight thing, John Gordon’s gonna help make it worth our while. I can find someone else if you’re not interested, but at least think...”
“You should think,” Dennis suddenly interrupted. “I’m not doing it, and if you’re smart enough to take my advice, you won’t do it either. Or, anything else for John Gordon.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
If Travis hoped to get any explanation whatsoever, it was lost when Dennis brushed by him, unlocked the door and fled like the plague was on his heels. Sighing over his lack of progress, Travis closed the door, told himself better luck next time--because he’d make sure there was a next time--ate two slices of pizza, and finally went to bed.
Dennis lost track of time easily. It seemed to be an inconvenient side effect of having no regular sleep patterns. But still, he managed to count two days since last encountering Travis Beltnick, nearly one week after he’d first met him.
It was a bright Friday afternoon, the streets covered in slush from melting snow since the temperatures had finally climbed above freezing. Traffic driving through town seemed heavier than usual, which could also be attributed to the weather as everyone emerged from the comfort of their homes to take care of neglected errands and recover from the perpetual boredom hiding from the cold had brought on. Today, Dennis was one of the errand runners, going to pick up an asthma prescription for the Chesleys’ son, Reilly. Ironic, since Dennis could still remember the days when he’d been the one causing Reilly’s asthma attacks.
Lately, Dennis had been doing a lot of thinking about those days. Not just Reilly; all of it. The days when high school was his playground and he was king, and nothing that crossed his lips was too cruel to snap at an unsuspecting victim. He supposed that he’d always known that he could be intimidating, and that most of the time the people he chose to make sport of were undeserving of that kind of attention, but it had taken him a while to figure out that there was something wrong with it. And the face of the bully he constantly hid behind--it hadn’t been brave of him, and it hadn’t made him a stronger person, the way he’d expected it to. It had all been cowardice on his part; hurting everyone who crossed his path was nothing but an easy way to deal with his own problems. But even while Dennis had never really admitted as much to anyone else, he saw things for what they were now. Maybe he was still living in someone’s basement, worked his go-nowhere jobs and didn’t know a friend from an acquaintance, but at least he wasn’t that person anymore, or so he liked to think. Even if he did feel like he was still dealing with the consequences of his past.
He found himself looking square into the green eyes of one of those consequences upon walking into the grocery store, where he’d hoped to make his way to the pharmacy and get out as soon as possible. But still, Ryan Sader made Dennis stop, as he usually did, just as Dennis usually always caused a pause in Ryan’s step. The look that passed between them was always the same: cold.
Call it an old school rivalry, or a deep-seated grudge. Either way, they didn’t like each other. For Dennis, this was as silly as it was reasonable. The truth of the matter was, apart from making a point to get on each other’s nerves when they were younger, he and Ryan had never been the kind of enemies that had a reason for hating each other. Not on a personal level, at least. That had been reserved for Ryan’s older cousin, Leo. There’s been a time when Dennis had a best friend who shared Ryan’s last name. But like everything else back then, Dennis had managed to destroy his friendship with Leo and make a new rival out of Ryan. But unlike most of Dennis’s past offenses, this one still bothered him. He figured that he was getting good at ignoring it, though, since he and Ryan had been able to pass without incident for over a year now. When it happened this time, however, it was almost an inconvenience since Dennis was suddenly feeling an unfamiliar urge to ask after Ryan’s apparent roommate. But, that was probably because Dennis was happy to blame the reason why he couldn’t stop thinking about his past on Travis Beltnick, who’d unwittingly brought it back to haunt him.
Dennis picked up Reilly’s meds in a more reasonable amount of time than expected and checked his watch as he headed out of the store, wondering if he should stop by the high school and see if Reilly needed a ride home; probably not. Reilly was graduating early this year (after having to wait almost a year to graduate at all for various health reasons) and left early almost every other day; and when Mrs. Chesley didn’t pick him up, she made a point to ask Dennis to. So, the rest of the day seemed as dead in the water as ever, not that Dennis thought much about it once he stepped outside the door. He was too busy coming eye to eye with another familiar face, and this one was decidedly more agreeable than Ryan’s. Dennis even tried out a smile.
“Getting groceries?” he asked, even as he realized what a stupid question that was.
Owen Doven shook his blond head and shoved his gloved hands into his pockets. “I came to see if Ryan was working.”
“Right,” Dennis nodded. Of course. Ryan was yet another reminder of why he didn’t call the one number stored in his cell phone besides work and home more often. “He’s in there.”
“Good... what are you doing?”
Dennis held up the pharmacy bag. “Reilly’s medicine.”
“Okay. Good--I mean, not that Reilly needs it...”
“Right,” Dennis said in way of understanding, and then fell silent. It didn’t take much for him to regret his recent venture into opening the lines of communication with Owen. This had been simpler, and not to mention a lot less awkward when their encounters started and ended with a simple nod of recognition. Now, he didn’t know how to act, or what to say, or what was supposed to end a polite conversation without making him feel like an idiot when he walked away. “I’m headed back to the house to bring it to him... Do you wanna come with?” he finally said, and quickly decided that that was not something that made him feel more comfortable in Dovan’s presence.
Owen’s response was in the negative, even if it only crossed his face. It was clear enough for Dennis, and quickly sent him backpedaling. “Never mind,” he said. “You were gonna see Ryan, right? I think he’s working up front. I should get going, anyway; I promised Mrs. Chesely I’d be around for dinner tonight, so...”
Owen reached out, briefly touching the sleeve of Dennis’s jacket when he tried to pass. “Hey, Ryan doesn’t know I was coming, and the only reason I did in the first place was because I was bored.”
“That’s okay,” Dennis said quickly.
“No, really... look, the thing is, Aiden’s kind of been with Reilly a lot lately.”
“Right,” Dennis agreed. Because it was true. Aiden visited the Chesleys a lot, but usually it was during the afternoon when Dennis was waking up before his night shift, so there was a minimum amount of contact. Which, suited him just fine. He was about as fond of Aiden as he was of Ryan.
“I just don’t wanna risk running into him,” Owen explained. “We sort of agreed to take some space and I think he already thinks I’m stalking him.”
“Why?” Dennis asked.
Owen smirked. “Because I kinda am.”
Dennis shook his head, seemingly unsure of whether to be amused or disturbed. “Well he’s not there now. I don’t think Reilly’s even home yet.”
Owen seemed to consider that. “I guess if I’m there first it’s not stalking.”
Dennis wanted to point out that if Aiden showed up it could be considered a worse offense than stalking. He was well aware of Aiden’s opinion when it came to the few times in the past that he and Owen had talked, regardless of no one bothering to tell him. But, he didn’t because he didn’t want Owen to think about that since he already seemed to be considering something else that Dennis counted in his favor.
“I’ll follow you over,” Owen finally said, and ten minutes later, Dennis was constantly checking his rearview mirror for a little black truck that made sharp turns and had its fair share of dents.
The Chesleys’ house was located towards the town’s higher elevation tucked onto the hillside. The winding streets and clustered, tall trees gave the illusion that they were in the middle of nowhere when really, they were less than a mile from the nearest convenient store. Before Dennis moved in, his parents--who ironically owned a house only a few stop signs away, though he often liked to forget it--had always complained about what an eyesore the Chesleys’ place was. Dennis had never really understood why it made a difference, because you could hardly see it from the road, anyway, but regardless, since the family had moved in they’d made a lot of improvements. Dennis was often proud that he’d been able to help with many of them, as it gave him a sense of accomplishment, even if he never did introduce the place as his own home. But still, when Owen commented on the improvements it brought a reluctant smile to Dennis’s face and made him wish his room was as impressive.
It wasn’t, of course. It was large, being in the basement, but other than a television, two mattresses stacked one over the other to make his bed, and a couple of wooden chairs, it was basically empty. He’d put up a few hooks by the door for his coats; he didn’t need a dresser for the rest of his clothes because the closet fit everything else just fine, and the only space his dog required was a plastic mat in the corner where he kept her food. But then, as Dennis was quickly reminded, it was surprising how much a small furball of a pet could make an empty room seem full.
She barked loudly, as she always did when someone she wasn’t expecting invaded her owner’s room, and Dennis was quick to shush her, not that it did any good. He didn’t bother trying again, but that seemed fine because Owen didn’t look ready to complain anytime soon as Dennis watched the blond kneel down to greet the little black dog, which became even more hyper once she realized that she was receiving attention.
“You still have Valentine,” Owen said, and for a moment, Dennis was surprised that he remembered her name. “Is she still causing you trouble?”
Dennis rolled his eyes at that. An inside joke relating to something that once upon a time, hadn’t been so funny. Valentine was one of the few things Dennis still had from his old life, and that he could credit to Owen. It was the first time Dennis had ever used Owen Dovan’s phone number, and that had been no easy task. Calling someone he considered an enemy at the time had been out of pure desperation. But, desperate he was. It was one thing for his parents to threaten to get rid of his puppy, but Dennis recalled being afraid of the way they would get rid of Valentine. To this day, he was pretty sure that his parents both still believed the dog had run away, when really it had been Owen, and as much as Dennis hated to admit it, Aiden, too, who’d gone through the trouble of helping him--and Valentine--out. They’d taken her to the Chesleys’ for safe keeping, and not so long after, Dennis had followed her there.
“Nah,” Dennis finally answered. “She’s mellowed out a lot. She just gets excited around company.”
Dennis, who’d dropped Reilly’s prescription on the table in the upstairs living room without running into anyone before leading Owen downstairs, made his way to the bed when he saw a page of notebook paper on his pillowcase.
“This isn’t bad,” Owen remarked, shedding his jacket. “I’m surprised it’s so warm down here. Our place is only half the size of this one and we need a space heater in every room even with the heat running.”
“I’ve never had a problem,” Dennis replied, but it was clear that his attention was more on the piece of paper in his hand than it was on Owen.
“If everything alright?”
Dennis nodded, crumbling the paper in his hand and sliding it into his pocket, but when he looked at the blond again, he found that he had his full attention, and shrugged. “Note from Mr. Chesley. My mom tried calling, is all,” he explained, and then waved off the look of concern on Owen’s face, thinking about how odd it was that Owen being concerned for him wasn’t really odd at all. “She’s been calling here lately. It’s kinda strange, because I didn’t even know she knew where I was living. I don’t plan on calling her back.”
“Good,” Owen blurted without thinking before he had the decency to look embarrassed about it. “I mean... I always thought it was good you moved in with the Chesleys, you know? I only met your mom those few times...”
“And I’m sure it was enough,” Dennis pointed out, the lines of his face showing hints of amusement. “Please, feel free to say whatever you feel like about either one of my parents, alright? I could care less, anymore.”
Owen studied Dennis for a long moment, giving Dennis the feeling that he wanted to argue with something he’d said. But ultimately, Owen turned one of the wooden chairs in the room backwards to straddle it, and didn’t. “Why do you think she was calling?” he asked curiously.
“I don’t know. My brother could be in trouble again, but like I said, I don’t really care.”
Owen nodded thoughtfully. It had been a while ago, but for a whole week all anyone could talk about was how Dennis’s brother, Lyle, had ended up back home after losing his football scholarship to steroid use.
“It could be they’re having problems with money,” Dennis suddenly said, and gestured to his mostly empty surroundings. “But I don’t know what they’d expect me to do about it.”
“Why would they be having that kind of trouble?” Owen asked.
“I don’t know. It’s just something I heard. So are you working anywhere tonight?”
Owen shook his head. “I’ve been at the club three weeks straight. Chris is making me take a night off. You?”
Dennis took a seat on his bed and pulled his pillow into his lap. “Called in sick.”
Owen grinned. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Turns out delivering pizzas is more hazardous than I thought,” Dennis remarked, but something in his tone suggested that he wasn’t entirely joking. Owen waited for him to elaborate, and when he didn’t they fell into another of their uncomfortable silences.
“This is kind of weird again, isn’t it?” Owen asked, though he didn’t sound like he minded it.
“Yeah. Again,” Dennis agreed as his dog jumped towards him and he dropped the pillow in time to catch her. “I don’t know... should we just sit here?”
Owen grinned. “No.”
“It’s just... I don’t really know what people do anymore, you know?”
“No,” Owen said again, and for a moment, Dennis was afraid that he’d have to explain it to him before he added, “Let’s take Valentine for a walk. People do that, right? Walk their dogs.”
“Yeah,” Dennis agreed. “And it’s not weird, right?”
“Right,” Owen stated.
So that’s what they did.
It was like falling from a top bunk in the middle of the night, weightless and tense, disoriented as he awaited a foul landing. The muscles in his back jolted, as if preparing for a knife to strike him there and his breath caught, moments of panic seizing him as he reached that place between asleep and awake where he felt conscious but paralyzed.
Travis opened eyelids heavy with the same sweat that had found its way beneath his covers to drench him in his bed and he gripped the flashlight that never seemed to make it out of his hands, no matter how much he tossed. The beam of light was aimed at his chin in the otherwise dark room, and for a moment he was still as he looked over the shadows cautiously, too afraid they’d come to life if he turned his flashlight on them.
Closing his eyes, he carefully reminded himself of where he was, who he lived with, and that he was in a room of locked doors and windows. He was still shaking, even when he was calm, and his eyes drifted to the glowing numbers on the clock.
He didn’t know what day it was, or how long he’d slept. It was four o’clock and dark when he’d last gone to bed, and now it was past eleven, dark again, and he was sure that he was late for something, just as he was sure that he’d long ago passed his usual four-hour mark when it came to a good night’s sleep. Plain and simple, he’d crashed, and he still felt too heavy to pull himself out of bed, exhausted from the only nightmare he ever had.
But, all of this had been bound to happen, and he knew it. He’d been pushing himself with long nights and busy days, and the recent cold front had only made it worse. It was possible that he was getting sick, too, but it wouldn’t matter if he was because he’d simply refuse to believe it.
Disgusted by what felt like sludge covering his entire body, and unsettled from his dream and not fully knowing how long he’d been out, Travis forced himself from bed, keeping his flashlight safely with him until he made it across the room and hit the switch.
The light on the ceiling was much brighter, painful to his eyes, but it effectively woke him enough to cross his room, open his top drawer, and switch the batteries out in his flashlight before he stripped the messed and no longer suitable sheets from his bed and traded them for the clean set in his closet. His next stop was the bathroom adjoining his and Ryan’s rooms, and almost an hour later he was stepping out of a cold shower into a room free from fog. He was still blue-lipped and trembling when he combed back his hair, and didn’t bother with dressing in anything more than a loose pair of cotton boxers before he ventured out of his room.
His throat was parched and his stomach felt empty as he made his way through the living room, waving halfheartedly at the guy sitting on the futon--a guy who was not his roommate--made it to the kitchen and emptied the carton of fruit punch in the refrigerator without bothering with a glass.
God, he’d been thirsty. And ravenous, so much so that the fruity beverage actually hurt when it hit his stomach, and when it proved not to be enough, he grabbed a plastic cup from the cabinet and filled it up. He drank slowly this time, allowing his surroundings to catch up with him.
Finally, with the cup still at his lips and his long throat tilted back to accommodate the slow-running water moving down it, he cut his eyes towards the guest on the futon, who had paused in flipping through one of the three photo albums with him to regard Travis with a certain amount of curiosity and concern. He’d said hello, Travis realized. In fact, that’s why Travis had waved to him in the first place, before he’d deemed his thirst more important than the whole apartment burning down would have been. He lowered his beverage and swallowed hard, testing his throat before he finally spoke. “What day is it?”
His guest on the sofa raised a sharp, black eyebrow and tucked a thick strand of dark hair behind his ear.
Travis thought that over and frowned; he was late getting somewhere. Hell, he was an hour late leaving from where he was supposed to be. Lacy was going to kill him.
“Ryan took off for a few minutes. Kyle needed help with his car or something. He should be right back.”
Travis tried to figure out whether or not he’d asked the question that had just been answered, but ultimately gave up and shook his head. “Sorry. I’m... waking up.” He took his drink closer to the living room, glancing down in the process to make sure his one article of clothing was still in order before he got too close to the futon. “Aiden?”
His guest nodded, and Travis’s mouth turned up in a way that suggested he was proud of himself for knowing that.
“I don’t know who Ryan usually has over here,” Travis admitted. “We keep different schedules. What are you doing?” He looked over the back of the sofa, cocking his head at the pictures in the album Aiden had open.
“Just putting some stuff together for work,” Aiden replied.
“Did you take those?” Travis asked of the pictures that all seemed to have been taken at some sort of formal party.
“Huh,” Travis responded, and didn’t seem to notice the way Aiden’s brow shot up again, this time from either offense or annoyance.
Aiden closed the book and put it aside, obviously interested in changing the subject. “So, look, Ryan said you wouldn’t care if I crash on your couch tonight.”
“Really? Why would you want to?”
Aiden shrugged. “I’m between places right now. I was house-sitting for Ryan’s cousin, but he got back tonight and I wanted to clear out.”
“Yeah....,” Travis replied, resting his elbows on the back of the futon and bringing himself closer to Aiden’s dark eyes. “But isn’t this your building?”
Aiden smiled. “I’m renting every unit right now. I’ll probably be renting somewhere else first thing tomorrow.”
“Okay.” Travis’s eyes unwittingly wandered away from the bow-shaped mouth he’d been watching in a near predatory way over the toned body clad in clothes that hung over muscles in a flattering way before they settled on Aiden’s neck, a spot above the collar bone that he imagined was sensitive. Even if Travis didn’t really notice what he was doing, Aiden did, and his head seemed to pull back as if the boundaries of personal space had been violated. But, if Aiden had commented, Travis likely would have insisted that it wasn’t his fault. He was full of energy again, some nervous and some otherwise, and plain and simple, he always thought about sex after his nightmares because that was what took his mind off of troubling thoughts the fastest. “Yeah. Stay, whatever,” he said, suddenly standing upright to step away from the couch. “Sleep in my bed if you want,” he added as he headed back towards the hall.
“Excuse me?” Aiden blurted, obviously at a loss for how to take the invitation. Perhaps that’s exactly what Travis intended to happen, because the grin he threw over his shoulder managed to be sly and playful.
“I meant because I’m not gonna be using it,” he explained, but was quick to boldly add, “I mean, if you really wanted, I’d visit for a while, but it wouldn’t be to sleep.”
It had been a while since Travis had so openly flirted with anyone, or had been interested enough to do so, so he was pleased to see that his ability to shock hadn’t faded much. Aiden was definitely shocked, and maybe a little interested, Travis was pleased to discover.
“Ryan didn’t tell me you were into...”
“Not his fault,” Travis interrupted, still backing away as if this part of the conversation wasn’t worth his time. “Don’t think I ever mentioned it to him.”
“Then how’d you know that I was?” Aiden asked.
Travis shrugged at that. “I didn’t.”
Aiden opened his mouth, closed it again, and when Travis left him there in the living room to return to his own room he was confident that Aiden was flustered enough to pick up their conversation later. Not to say that Travis wasn’t open to visiting his unexpected guest a little more just then. As it happened, he really did have something more important to do that involved making sure his extra-long nap hadn’t cost him one of his jobs. He’d missed his entire shift at the video store, and was surprised to find that the expected, irate message from Lacy was nowhere to be found on his cell phone. So he called her.
He was surprised when she was more worried about whether or not he was okay than why he’d missed his shift, and during their conversation he’d carefully managed to figure out that Ryan had called in sick for him. It was a surprise, but appreciated. Travis could only guess that his roommate had been unable to wake him for one reason or another, and then covered good since Lacy bought it, and Travis had no reason to correct her way of thinking. He told her he’d see her tomorrow, and then turned his attention to the one message he did have on his phone.
Travis had been indifferent towards Phil Clayton before, but now the guy’s voice sounded like an irritating nag as he told Travis to call him back because he wanted to meet on Tenth Street again. It was obvious that he’d recruited new highschoolers eager to worship him. It was always funny to Travis, how many people would show up just because they knew they’d get to hit him for the right price. But, Travis figured that he was fair, and if he kept teaching these idiots the right way to hit--also for the right price--then there was always the hope that some day one of them would stop worshiping Phil long enough to beat the crap out of him. At least, that hope was there now.
Part of him didn’t want to, but Travis called Phil back. A buck was a buck, after all, and it had been a slow week. In fact, he was pretty sure he’d lost money during a few of his gambles, though he was too afraid to make an accurate count to be sure. There was no sense in getting himself down, after all.
But, there was also no sense in being polite to Phil when he informed Travis that he should have called sooner.
“I promised these guys you’d show up,” Phil complained.
“You should have checked with me before you promised,” Travis responded. “It’s your problem, and if I feel like showing up later on and catch you anywhere near me, that’ll be your problem, too, after the other night.”
“Hey, you made your money!” Phil shot back. “You can’t be pissed at me because I sent you after an easy fucking target and you fucked it up!”
“There was nothing easy about him,” Travis said evenly. “And I’m not pissed because he hit me.”
“No, you pussy. I’m pissed over how you split on me.”
“Oh, come on, Travis! It’s not like you didn’t get ho--”
Travis hung up on him and stared at his phone for a whole minute, half expecting Phil to call back, but when he didn’t, Travis shrugged, put his phone down and got dressed as if getting ready for the day at midnight was normal for everyone. But, he felt tired doing it.
Too bad that was unreasonable. There was no reason to feel tired, Travis told himself, because he refused to believe that he actually ever got tired. He’d feel better when he got going. He had to. It didn’t matter that for once, he wanted to spend an entire evening there in his apartment. Cook an actual meal over a frying pan. Turn on the television for a while. Hell, he could even spend some time getting to know his hot landlord, not to mention his roommate, in a setting that provided peace and comfort.
Travis knew better than to allow himself any of that, though. Peace and comfort meant sitting still, and sitting still meant more time to think, and too much thinking left him vulnerable to thoughts more serious than he preferred. But, no matter how much he tried to run from the invisible troubles sneaking into his mind, he knew that it would be happening more frequently now. At least, for the next twelve days. His recent nightmare was proof enough of that.
Checking his pockets to make sure that he had everything of importance, Travis stopped in front of his door to stare at the small, but effective lighthouses calender pinned to his door. His working schedule was filled out for the rest of the month, and he singled out the date to confirm that he had three shifts tomorrow--two at the video store, and one at the dealership. Not much time for sleep there. Good. Flipping the page up to look at the next month, he found that February was empty for now, except for the sixth, which he’d circled twice with a blue crayon. He frowned, now wishing that he hadn’t bothered. He also wished that he didn’t know that it was twelve days away without having to look, because if there was any indication that he’d been thinking too much, that was definitely it.
Travis dropped the page, opened his door, and headed towards the living room. Even before he made it down the short hallway he could hear voices that told him Ryan was back. He was telling Aiden about the trouble he’d gone through helping Kyle and Nicky break into Kyle’s car and how neither of them wanted to admit locking the keys in it. But, when Travis reached the living room, Ryan didn’t look nearly as irritated as he sounded as he sat cross-legged on the futon across from Aiden with his fingers working busily at the controls of a video game.
“Whoa,” Ryan remarked once he noticed Travis, but didn’t stop playing, or look away from his game for more than a moment. “You’re up.”
“Yeah,” Travis agreed. “Thanks for covering with Lacy. I owe you one for that.”
Ryan snorted. “Tell me about it. She hung up on me twice before I even got your name out.” He glanced over his shoulder long enough to flash Travis a dubious look over the subject of Lacy, but then looked Travis up and down as he stood there fully dressed in his snow suit. “Are you leaving?”
“Yep,” Travis replied, but instead of reaching the door, he moved behind the futon and rested his elbows over the back again, this time between Aiden and Ryan.
Ryan rolled his eyes. “And here I thought you were actually sick for once.”
“I don’t get sick,” Travis replied to Ryan, but his attention was deliberately on the guy who wasn’t his roommate. Aiden was looking back again with wide eyes that were now knowingly suspicious. “So, have we decided if we’re having a sleepover yet?” Travis said in such a blatant way obviously meant for Aiden’s ears that whatever Aiden had been bracing himself for came to tint his cheeks with a pink hue. And, whatever he’d been preparing himself to say was lost on the tip of his tongue, giving Travis the accurate impression that Aiden Knightly wasn’t accustomed to forward flirtations from complete strangers.
When Aiden seemed unnerved enough to suit Travis, he winked at their guest, laughed out loud, and didn’t bother sticking around to address the bewildered look on Ryan’s face when he finally looked up from his game to try to figure out what had Aiden so flustered.
Maybe it really would be worth his time, Travis thought as he stepped out into the cold, to spend more time at home running afoul of Ryan’s guests. But, not tonight. He headed to Kyle’s apartment first, only intending to say hello. Travis had been too busy lately to spend any real time with his friend, but he supposed it was just as well since Kyle had become busy with his cousin moving in. Still, though, Travis made the effort to pay him a visit, and he didn’t decline to lengthen that visit when Kyle asked if Travis wanted to go to the club with him and Nicky. Lacy wasn’t there to dance with this time, but on a busy Friday night, Travis had no trouble finding a few partners. He managed to stay occupied for a good hour before he slipped out of the club quietly and made it down to Tenth Street where he managed to make back some of the money he’d lost over the past week between his own activities and pitting two of Phil’s little friends against each other in a fight that wasn’t altogether fair since one of them had been coached in the past by Travis. The arrival of the police department sent everyone scattering, and encouraged Travis to get home three hours before he was supposed to be waking up for work.
By then he had a worse black eye than he’d had in a while, and a sense of satisfaction in knowing that Phil had been intimidated enough to stay away from Tenth Street tonight. The apartment was warm when Travis stepped inside, the television had been left on at a low volume, and Aiden Knightly was sleeping soundly on the futon, which he’d likely determined to be safer than the unoccupied bed in Travis’s room.
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