Irene lives in LA for a little while, after, with her son and nothing else. She’s sad and she misses him. She misses both of them.
She thinks a lot about the night they had dinner, the three of them and Benicio. The kitchen had been warm and cozy, gold off set by the deep brown of Benicio’s eyes looking up at each of them in turn. Standard had told the story of when they first met. “Where is the deluxe version,” she’d said. She was looking at the driver when she said it.
At that moment, Standard had blood on his eyebrows, his knuckle, running down his scalp. The driver looked pristine. He smiled.
Maybe he was the deluxe version, but she wouldn’t trade Standard for anything.
She thinks constantly, now, about Standard’s toast to the future, in that kitchen, when he’d told the story. Back then, she hadn't known anything about what was about to happen, and she’s so angry about it.
This future. This isn’t what she planned
Several weeks - a month - after Standard dies, a package comes to her apartment, with no return address. The note inside says ‘For Benicio’ and then, in smaller, messier handwriting, “I miss you.” The note paper has the name of a garage on it. The package is from Pioche, Nevada. It has toys for Benicio, cars and cartoons. The note is signed ‘405.’
The first time she kissed Standard was at a party. The first time she kissed 405 was in an elevator before he kicked someone’s head in. It had felt like years of her life passed through her as she was kissing him, like time stood still on them. And then he’d killed the man next to her, and the doors shut.
It feels like years ago now, the day she first met the driver. He’d helped her when her car had broken down, and driven her home. Benicio fell in love with him in the elevator, smiling up at the man with grease on his hands, holding a bag of groceries. The three of them against the green carpet, the clank of the pulleys.
She could see it on Benicio's face, and feel it in the grip of his hand on hers. Benicio was open to things like that. Things like falling in love.
The day Standard died is blurry when she thinks about it, much blurrier than most of the moments around it. She can remember every detail of the driver’s hand on the wheel at the LA river, but hearing about Standard is all washed out, grey lines. The police had called her, but she hadn’t believed them. Then her neighbor had come home, and told her, and she’d slapped him in the face.
At that moment, she knew that this wasn’t what she wanted. She didn’t want Benicio without a father. She’d wanted both. She wanted AND, not or. She didn’t want to lose anymore than she already had, and now, and now…
It wasn’t the driver’s fault, except that a voice in her head kept telling her it was.
The first time he’d come into her apartment, he’d seen the picture in the kitchen.
“Benicio’s dad,” she’d said. “He’s in prison.”
She could see him say “oh” in his mind, even if he didn’t speak it out loud. “Oh.” Yeah. Oh.
She’d asked if the driving he did was dangerous. “It’s only part-time,” he’d said, which wasn’t an answer.
Now she knew.
The three of them - 405, her, Benicio - spent time together, watched TV, hung out. Nothing happened except that everything happened, slowly, deliberately. They got used to each other. She tried to feel terribly guilty about it, but she couldn’t.
Standard had met him for the first time in the hallway. She was sitting next to him and talking when Standard walked by, taking out the trash with Benicio. They’d stood around each other, eyed each other up, watched her watching them. 405 had looked so golden and happy, like he was just fine being right where he was. And Standard...had watched. Had listened. Had made his presence known. But he wasn’t hostile.
She wondered if he saw how bright 405 was, too, saw what she saw. How could he not, standing in that glow.
Two days after Standard died, there was the driver’s voice, crackly over the phone, the sound of cars rushing by behind him. “I have to go.” The sound of someone shouting, in the background, too far to make out. “I don't know that I can come back.”
She looped the rings of the phone cord around her fingers.
“I want you to know that being around you and Benicio was the best thing that ever happened to me.” She can’t respond, can’t talk past the ice in her throat. He hung up.
He had come to see her at the restaurant, and he asked about Standard.
“You should come over,” she’d said. “You should come see him.” She wanted him to see Standard. She wanted them to see each other.
She sits with the package. After a month, she gives Benicio the toys. He asks her where they came from, and she shows him the package, which she knows isn’t fair.
She keeps the box, and the note, and she doesn’t do anything. She has a life to live. What is she gonna do, move out to the desert? Go see him? She thinks she’s still angry. But she also wants, badly, and she is getting worse and worse at ignoring it.
He’d had a good time, she could tell. They drove home from the river, lit by the lights of the city, the neon of LA evening, the feel of the sun still on her skin.
Standard sometimes told her that she glowed like Los Angeles did. At this moment, with him, she felt like that was true.
She’s the one who made a move, who pushed it father. She put her hand on his knee. The light on their legs, their hands, the gearshift. The two of them and Benicio in the backseat, moving against the sky.
She looks at him as the music swells behind her and she can’t understand how her heart can be so full, so completely sure and even. There’s no competition. No one ahead, no one behind. She wants them both, fiercely and utterly, at the same time.
It’s a whole six months later, five months after she got the package from 405 and four months after she opened it, when they see Standard again. Her and Benicio are walking back from the park, and there he is, standing in her doorway.
He looks good, thinner. Shadows under his eyes, but there always were. She slaps him in the face, and starts to cry.
It had all been fake, a lie, a setup - the robbery, the shooting, his death. “I wanted to come back, every day, but I had to wait until things died down.”
He reaches out, and touches her hand, doesn’t hold it.
“I”m so sorry. I wanted to keep you safe. You, and Benicio.”
She bites her lip. She keeps trying to look away from him, but she can’t. She squeezes his finger in hers, too hard.
“That’s why I can’t stay here. I love you. So much.”
She tells him what happened, what she knows, at least, and Standard nods. He doesn’t look surprised.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you. I’m sorry you were hurt.” His eyes seem so big, so much deeper than she remembers. The tears are drying on her cheeks, and she feels like she wants to run out of the house and start over. Run to Nevada, maybe, or off the entire face of the earth.
She still loves him, so much.
Over dinner, Standard sighs, and looks away from her. “I can’t stay here.”
She nods. No one can stay here.
“I don’t know where I’m going to go, yet,” Standard says. “I”ll figure it out. I”m sorry. I have to.”
It takes her a day and a half, but. She knows there’s not really a choice.
She shows him the box, the package.
He looks at her, intense, his eyebrows dark and heavy. “I love you so much,” he says. “You know that. You and Benicio.” He looks at the note, again, his lips moving.
“Come with me,” he says, then and again and again in the next few hours, before he leaves. “Come with me. When you can.”
“Come with us,” he says.
Days pass. She goes to work. Benicio goes to school.
Maybe Standard didn’t get to Pioche.
Maybe the driver’s not even there, anymore. He probably had to move.
A postcard, weeks later. “Feels good to be driving again,” it says. “We miss you.” It’s not signed, but it’s Standard’s cramped handwriting. It’s from Grand Staircase, Utah.
A week after that, another package. A t-shirt with a shark on it, in Benicio’s size. It's wrapped in a plastic bag that has the name of a diner on it. The postage is from Gunlock.
Two weeks later, she packs up their things and she tells Benicio’s school and they go. She’s tired of waiting.
Standard isn’t working at that diner anymore, but he gets her a job there - hosting, first, but then waitressing. She likes it, likes the slow pace, the peach cobbler, the cranky kitchen staff.
The driver works at a garage, of course, and lives in a small house with a sunny yard. Standard lives there too, which is exactly what she had expected, though maybe she shouldn't have.
Standard works for the telephone company, repairing wires, climbing poles, answering when bored housewives say their satellite TV doesn't work. Sometimes he works at the garage, too, or maybe he just hangs out there. She can’t tell for sure.
“He doesn't talk much,” Standard says. He laughs.
“Yeah,” she says, smiling. “I know. He talks to Benicio, a bit.”
“I'm not complaining!” Standard says. “Its nice. I like the quiet.” She raises an eyebrow, and he laughs again. “Sometimes I do.”
She walks into the backyard one day, three beers in hand, cold from the fridge. The two men are sitting next to each other, on the ground (they don’t have chairs in the backyard yet), throwing rocks at the tree branches across the yard. Standard rarely hits the leaves, but the other man does.
“She always was,” the driver says. She can’t quite hear what they’re saying.
Standard shakes his head. “I left,” he said. “I left her alone and you were there. I...thank-”
“I know,” says the driver, and she feels like maybe they’ve had this conversation before. “You don’t have to thank me.”
Standard laughs, in that way he has where he doesn’t think its funny at all. He shakes his head. “I heard what happened to Nino,” and he turns to look at the other man.
He doesn’t look back, just throws a rock.
Standard sighs, and looks towards the house.
“Oh hey,” he says, seeing her. “Are these for us?” He grins, and it's like a spell is broken. The other man looks towards her, too, smiles his slow, crooked smile. Standard stands up, takes two beer from her hands, kisses her on the temple. “Come sit with us. I bet you’re better at hitting the branches than I am.”
The house has one bedroom, with a big bed in it. Benicio sleeps in a little room - more of a closet - off the kitchen. They’d bought a cot for him the first day, when Irene showed up, sweaty and tired after hours of driving. There’s a couch in front of the TV, and that’s where the driver sleeps, but sometimes Standard falls asleep watching TV and he sleeps there, and the driver sleeps in the bed, with her. Sometimes she has shifts that end late or start early, and she sleeps on the couch, because why wake them up if she doesn’t have to.
Every time she climbs into bed, she feels like she’s being very, very careful. She hasn’t touched the driver since she got to Utah. She’s barely touched Standard - his hand, his cheek, his lips, dry and sweet - but nothing else.
One night she has to close the diner and a lovesick pair of teenagers won’t leave for hours. She gets back to the house in the pitch black darkness, her feet aching, everything sore. The couch is empty and there are two men in her bed and she’s so tired. Tired of waiting, tired of being careful.
She takes off her uniform, changes into a t-shirt and panties and climbs directly in between them. There’s room for three if they’re willing to touch. Standard makes a low noise, but he doesn’t wake up, just snakes an arm across her midsection, pulls her closer, pushes his nose into her shoulder. She’s facing the other man and she can see he’s awake, his eyes blue in the light from outside, watching her. She smiles, and he does, too, she thinks, very small. They look at each other, so close in their just big enough bed, Standard warm and solid behind her. She doesn’t know how long they stay like that, just that she must have fallen asleep because later she wakes up.
Standard’s alarm has gone off. It’s his turn to take Benicio to school, because she worked late. She feels him sit up next to her, but she doesn’t open her eyes.
A few minutes later, the driver gets up, and the bed is cold without them both. She knows she should get up, make coffee, but she feels like she’s sunk into the sheets. Five more minutes.
“Hey,” says a voice, above her, some time later. Its 405, and when she opens her eyes she sees his hair, golden in the morning sun, and a cup of coffee, steam rising from it.
“Do you have to go in soon?” she asks as she sips it.
He shrugs. “Later, probably.”
She smiles. “Benicio get out ok?”
He nods. “Standard should be back soon. He’s not working today.”
Between that sip and the next she hears the door open, and then the clatter of keys on the counter, boots pulled off. Standard walks back into the bedroom, looks at her. Looks at him.
The sun is bright through the window; someone pulled the blinds up. White, clear, steady sunlight. It feels so different here than LA.
The two men are still looking at her each other, she realizes. She’s not sure what they’re saying, but something is happening. Some analysis, or some decision.
She feels like she’s missing a part of what they are saying, but also like she understands exactly, exactly what is happening around her. She knows what happens next.
“Come back to bed?” she says, to Standard. “If you don’t have to work for awhile.” Standard moves towards her, kneels on the bed.
The bed next to her shifts, and she puts her hand on the other man’s leg. “Stay?” she asks.
He looks at her, looks at Standard. “Ok,” he says. Standard smiles.
Standard leans in, one hand on her shoulder, the other on the bed, very close to the blond man’s hip. He kisses her, and she melts into it. “Ok,” he says, the word coming out around the corners of his mouth, around his lips against hers.
It feels like everything is extra bright. LIke her skin is suffused with light, like his lips are a deeper shade of red than she knew they could be. Like Standard’s fingers on her stomach are leaving trails as he touches her, like sun through the trees.
She looks at the driver, his face so close above her, and she kisses him.
Time slows down, again. His lips against hers are like honey, syrupy smooth. The air on her skin feels warm, and it's like she can feel every molecule of light as it touches her.
She breaks away, and she’s panting. So is he.
Standard’s fingers are still playing at her hips, rubbing across and over the panties she’s wearing. He’s looking at them, the two of them, his eyes flicking between both of their lips.
She giggles, reaches out for Standard’s face, bringing him towards her. “How does this work, exactly?” she says, and Standard kisses her.
The other man laughs, a little, next to her.
Standard is grinning as he pulls away from her, and his hand slides down her stomach, her side, her hip. He pulls her underwear down and she helps him, lifts her hips to allow it off. Standard wraps his arms around both her thighs, holding her in place. He grins at her, and winks at the other man before ducking his head down and kissing her clit. It’s clear that’s his answer to her question.
She arches against the bed, her shoulder digging into the man next to her as she moves. It feels so good and it's been a long time since anyone has touched her there. Standard knows her so well, knows how to touch her, what she wants most. The other man’s hand is on her shoulder, giving her something to push against, and her eyes fly open to meet his, so blue in the morning light that they don’t look real.
He kisses her again, his hand around her shoulder, her collarbone. Standard’s tongue is moving in circles against her and she can’t control herself, she bucks against him again, her hand reaching for someone, anyone, and finding 405’s. He’s nosing down her neck now, and biting at her collarbones, quick little nips that are still sharp enough to leave a mark.
“Oh,” she says, and it might be out loud. She laughs, again, because she can’t help it. Standard stops, looks up. The driver is still kissing her neck, his hand playing with her nipple through her shirt.
“What?” Standard says, but his eyes are on the driver’s hand.
“Nothing,” she says, and laughs again. “Everything. I don’t know. Don’t stop.”
Standard does look at her then, and arches an eyebrow. “All right then,” he says, and then his eyes turn to the driver, who’s looking at him now. “You think you can do something to make her stop talking?”
She comes, the first time, only minutes after he puts his cock in her mouth, her head turned sideways, cheek flat against the pillow. Standard is still licking her, fast and merciless like she likes, and he’s rubbing himself against the bed, she can tell he’s hard. The cock in her mouth has her getting even wetter, more worked up, and she comes without expecting it, bright and intense.
Standard gives her a few seconds, but its not nearly long enough before his tongue is licking across her labia again. She tries to focus on her own task, this time, tries to use her tongue and her lips on the driver like she knows how to do, even as her breaths are coming in short gasps. Her hair is sticking to her forehead, and her hands are gripping into the sheets. She feels like she’s drowning and its so, so good.
He’s getting thicker and harder in her mouth, and she tastes salt on her tongue. She feels herself melt into it, the sparks of pleasure and pride in making him feel that way. She wants him to come in her mouth.
Suddenly he’s gone, and her eyes open to see his hand on his cock, over her. She means to say that it’s ok, she can swallow, she wants to, but Standard swirls his tongue at that moment and it comes out as a moan and then she’s gasping as he spurts on her chest, her stomach, her breasts.
“Shit,” he says, breathes it out as if he’s been punched.
“Yeah?” she asks.
“Holy shit,” says Standard, and he’s laughing as he looks up, his lips and chin wet with her.
The two men smile at each other, and then move, as if on cue, in unison. Standard is back between her legs, and the driver dips his head down, kisses her, long and languid. She can feel as he smiles against her lips, but she can’t focus because the blood is rushing over and through her, and she’s whimpering against his lips, her hand clutching at Standard’s hand wrapped around her thigh.
He stops and she’s gasping. “God, I...please,” she says, she’s not sure what.
“I know, baby,” says Standard. “Move up the bed a little yeah?”
She gets what he’s going for and moves, eager to feel him inside her, wanting everything to be more and all around her and more.
The driver’s hand is at her hip, and then his hand is grasping at her hair, long enough now to pull her back and pull his mouth to hers. She opens her mouth under him, can’t help it, so she’s not even looking when Standard pushes into her.
“Fuuuck,” he breathes out, and she squirms, feels the other man’s hand tighten in her hair. “It was so hot watching you, babe, I can’t-” Standard says.
That’s fine with her, though, because she’s so close already and she just wants. She reaches down with her hand, wedges it between Standard’s body and her own where they are joined, and touches herself. The driver is still kissing her, his fingers moving across her chest, his hand buried in her hair. Standard thrusts into her, and she comes, her eyes flying open and then shut again, gasping for air. Her ears are ringing, and it feels like the light on her skin is a physical touch, buzzing through her.
She falls back into the pillow, riding the aftershocks, her legs twitching and her pulse fluttering through her throat. The driver’s hands are still on her, his head moving up as she pants into the air.
Standard is deep inside her and it feels amazing even as its too much. She thinks about Benicio, about making him this way. She feels like she’s floating.
The driver is watching Standard now, lying alongside her. The two of them haven’t touched, she realizes, not really. They’ve shared her, and taken turns, and she feels warm and buzzy thinking about that, but they haven’t touched each other.
She wants them to, and she’s not sure how to make it happen, and she’s still feeling dazed, ripples of pleasure still running through her as Standard fucks into her.
The two of them are looking at each other now, even as Standard moves, even as she’s between them. Again, its a conversation she’s not sure she’s part of, but she doesn’t need to be. She likes that there’s space for them, too, a moment she is next to but not part of. She almost doesn’t see the moment the driver’s hand reaches for Standard, brings him closer. Her heart starts beating faster even as she feels so wrung out, and then the two of them are kissing.
They just kiss - there’s no tongue, no intensity. It’s sweet, almost chaste. The blond man tilts his head, slightly, and she watches as their mouth slot together, their lips moving against each other. The drivers hand is on Standard’s neck, and then against the base of his head, pulling him closer.
They kiss, and she feels Standard turn shaky above her, inside her, until she knows he’s coming. The driver kisses him through it, even as Standard is panting wetly into his mouth.
She’s already come twice but she still feels something break open inside of her, watching them. She feels it in her bones. Something shifts, and settles, as Standard collapses next to her and the driver stretches out on her other side. A space opens inside her heart. She feels lit up from the inside.
It’s time to move on, again, probably. No one has recognized any of them, but they have to be careful.
The men take turns driving, south this time, and she sits in the back seat with Benicio. He’s wearing his shark t-shirt. The sky is so bright and open, blue through the window, flickers of green. Her hair is getting longer and it whips into her eyes with the wind.
The future. This isn’t what she planned. She hums along with the music, and waits to see what the light will touch next.