Dan had been so bone-deep sure that he was going to have to leave Casey that he had, in effect, mentally reconciled himself to the idea. There was something to it, he was pretty sure, and he said so to Abby: something to the idea of reconciliation, something to smoothing over all the hollow, pitted scars in his soul with warm beach sand. He’d bake in the sun until all the regrets had baked out, like alcohol from a rum cake.
“Don’t you mean rum balls?”
“No, I’m pretty sure I mean cake.”
“I thought rum cake still had alcohol in it.”
“So you’re trying to spoil my metaphor.”
“I’m not trying to spoil anything, Danny.” Abby propped her hand on her chin and watched him with her big, liquid eyes.
“Well, you seem to manage to spoil things just fine without trying.”
“You’ve lived in L.A. before.”
“Yeah, but just for a little while. And it was good, it was a good time. I had my first real sports job, we were—I was working with Casey and Dana, so you know. It was different.”
“I’ll bet it was. Why do you think L.A. will heal you?”
“I don’t think it’ll heal me. I think it might… I don’t know. Let me heal, maybe.”
“Is New York not doing that?”
“No. God, can you imagine New York healing anything? It keeps the wounds open. I read something once—a guy said, living in New York is like having a bitch monkey on your back, gnawing on your ears and pouring grain alcohol in the wounds.”
“Sounds like you’ve got some issues with the city.”
“He also said it was the most consistently exhilarating experience in the world.”
“Do you feel exhilarated?”
Dan tugged at a button at the neck of his Henley. “I suppose.”
“You don’t sound exhilarated.”
“It’s difficult to sound exhilarated when I’ve just spent weeks not knowing whether I was going to still have a job.”
“You do have a job, though.”
“That I do. That I do indeed.”
“Are you disappointed?”
“What? That’s insane.”
“Is it?” Abby raised her eyebrows. “You were all geared up to move to L.A. and start a new life where you could sun yourself by the sea.”
“It would have—Casey wouldn’t have gone with me.”
“Ah, yes. The rub. The sticking point, if you will.”
“I don’t think I will, as a matter of fact.”
“That’s a shame, because I’m going to.”
He made a face at her. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Danny, how many times have you said that to me?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been keeping track.”
“It’s been a lot.”
“I’ll grant you that,” he said magnanimously.
“And how often am I wrong?”
That made his stomach twist. He spun the button back and forth between his fingers; the threads were loose enough that he could get some real mileage out of it.
“I’m not wrong all that often,” she said, more gently. “Are you disappointed that you’re not going to get a chance to prove that you can do it without Casey?”
“I don’t need to prove it. He knows it. He told me as much.”
“But do you?” She quirked the side of her mouth sympathetically.
He stared at her for a long time.
They went to Anthony’s again, because “the luck, Danny!”, said Dana, obviously intoxicated with her own delight. It had been days and she showed no signs of winding down. If anything, it was like she was winding up to something, some kind of explosive demonstration of her joy. They didn’t need luck anymore, the luck had paid off, but Dana was insistent.
Dan got a Manhattan. He didn’t particularly like them, but it felt thematically appropriate. He leaned against the bar for a while, watching the other Sports Night people at their tables—Kim, for instance, who had never been his secretary; Elliot and Dave, waving their hands as they got into it about something; Chris and Will, talking in hushed, subdued tones as Elliot and Dave periodically jostled their elbows.
Casey and Dana were sitting next to each other, kitty-corner at the one of the four-person tables. They were talking, leaning in towards each other intimately. Casey kept making vaguely distressed faces while Dana bit her lip a lot.
Dan took a slow sip of his too-sweet, too-bitter drink and tugged half-heartedly at the cherry stem. He met Casey’s eyes for a second; Casey looked hunted, and went back to talking to Dana, who was continuing to speak quickly and too quietly to overhear.
He’d invited Rebecca. She hadn’t come. He hadn’t, if he was being honest with himself, expected her to. They’d had dinner right after the show was saved, and there’d been this sense like they were both constantly missing dance steps, or steps down a staircase. Lobbing each other conversational softballs and missing them anyway. The Dan he’d been able to be for her didn’t exist anymore. She’d seemed baffled by him on some fundamental level.
He’d looked at her and seen something crisper and clearer than he had in the first hazy flush of infatuation: she was confused and lonely and frightened, too. Dan, the Doer of Good Things Where Women are Concerned, had wanted to rush in with some plywood and a hammer and fix it all.
It wasn’t a plywood kind of problem, though. It was a load-bearing wall. And Dan knew good and well that his own structural problems weren’t going to leave him the stability to fix someone else.
He wound towards the tables. He paused for a minute, debating between the somewhat-crowded table of Kim and company, and the emptier but clearly more fraught table of Casey and Dana. Kim saved him the trouble, tugging him in with an arm looped around his waist. He stood there, uselessly, until Kim’s grip loosened and he could pull up a chair.
After a while, Casey stood up and left without saying goodbye to anyone. Dana stayed at the table. Natalie went to talk to her for a few minutes—Jeremy was moodily folding and re-folding a cocktail napkin—and then Natalie got up, too, and left with Jeremy, who at least had the grace to look surprised and pleased.
Dan got up to use the bathroom, got a beer on his way back, and went to sit next to Dana. He’d had about as much soccer as he could take from Kim, who seemed to delight in bringing it up just to annoy him. Besides, maybe Dana could use the company.
Dana was pushing the paper umbrella in her cocktail in eccentric circles, staring down at it with the intense focus of someone considering a fortune-teller’s premonition of imminent doom.
“Hey,” said Dan. “What are you up to?”
“Breaking up with Casey,” she told her drink.
“I thought you weren’t together.”
She shrugged. “You weren’t wrong.”
“But you’re breaking up?”
“Doesn’t that imply—”
“Only if you listen to Jeremy, who has, frankly, never had that keen a grasp of human relationships, let’s be fair.”
He shrugged. “No argument here.”
“For once in your life,” she muttered resentfully, but her heart wasn’t really in it.
“May I ask why the non-breakup-breakup?”
“It’s a real breakup.”
“Okay, fine. Why?”
She looked up at him, making full and direct eye contact. “I may have gotten tired of being yanked around like a puppet on a string.”
“Whoa. Uh, okay.”
She went back to staring at her drink. “It’s not like he didn’t try, this last time. You know? And maybe… maybe the dating plan wasn’t about a dating plan.”
“It didn’t seem like it was about much of anything, from what I saw.”
“It was about getting yanked around a half a dozen times. About not believing Casey when he said he’d made up his mind.” She laughed; it was a sad kind of honk, robbed of its appropriate tragedy by the drinking, probably. “Do you have any idea how bad he was at our first kiss?”
“What?” Dan had the sinking, familiar feeling that he was about to learn much, much more than he wanted to, but he couldn’t keep the question off his mouth. He grimaced afterwards, licking the inside of his lip like he could recall the words and be the noble, impartial best friend Casey deserved in that moment.
“It was awful! He was acting like I was a firing squad, for God’s sake. A woman wants to feel something, you know? She wants to feel wooed. I felt like the Spanish Inquisition.”
Dan tried desperately to think of something to say that wasn’t a Monty Python reference.
Dana mistook his silence for shock. “I think that was when it really—it hit me, that we weren’t right for each other. That we were never going to be right for each other. The next couple of months… was just me admitting it, in slow motion.”
“With various stages of grief?”
“Anger, bargaining. The works.” She took a drink. “Also, my doctor prescribed some diet pills that, in retrospect, I’m not convinced were entirely legal, and I’m starting to question whether I really need a naturopath.”
“Yeah, I’m going to have to recommend you stay away from the diet pills. You’re already thin, for one thing. And don’t those make your heart explode?”
“I know that now,” she said peevishly and sighed. “Sorry. It’s hard to admit it’s really over. I was holding onto him.”
“Like a security blanket?”
She held her thumb and forefinger up, close together. “A little bit like a security blanket.”
Dan drummed his fingers on the table aimlessly, finishing his beer in their companionable silence.
Finally he said, “Do you need anything?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“That’s fair. I’m not sure I would either.”
She traced abstract patterns in the condensation on her glass with one finger. “Can I ask you something?”
“If you’d met me—outside of this context, outside of knowing Casey and working together back in L.A. and in Dallas and everything—would you have found me attractive?” Her voice got lower until she was almost inaudible, smiling a little, though it didn’t reach her eyes. She still wasn’t looking at him.
“Of course I would have. I do. Anyone with eyes would. Or ears, for that matter. You’re a very witty, well-educated, and accomplished woman, and you’re also drop-dead gorgeous. Men are jerks, is the problem.”
The low ambient light of the bar gleamed off her cheekbones. She was beautiful; it was a shame no one told her that more often. She managed a tired laugh. “Oh, Danny. Never change.”
“I think that’s the whole point of therapy, though.”
“Then change as much as you’re paying Abby to help with. But don’t stop telling me I deserve better than jerks.”
She patted his arm. “All this, and you know shoes, too. You’re perfect.”
“Are you secretly in love with me now? Because Natalie’s going to have a field day with that.”
That got a real laugh; she looked at him, and then away, with a rueful smile. “I wish. Wouldn’t that be easy? Casey would lose his mind, though. The two people on this earth obsessed with him, getting obsessed with each other instead. Can you imagine the degree to which his mind would be utterly and completely lost?”
Dan blinked. “I’m not—”
“Danny. Don’t talk to me like I’m other people.” She patted his arm again, harder, and left her hand there. “He knows he can yank us around, so he does. How many times—he’s done it to you, too, hasn’t he? Reeled you in and then let the line play out?” She made some kind of hand gesture.
“That’s the gesture of someone who has zero idea how fishing works,” said Dan blankly, “and you should reconsider your ability to use fishing metaphors.”
“You fuck up a first kiss, you can never really recover from it.” Dana stirred her drink, which was by that time mostly melting ice and lightly blue-tinted water, and took a noisy sip. “Sometimes I think he screwed up our first kiss on purpose.”
“Maybe that’s what happens you put that much pressure on a first kiss.”
She shrugged. “Maybe. Or maybe Casey’s just a lousy kisser, and no one ever told him. Lisa wasn’t, so he can’t blame her.”
“Lisa—oh, you weren’t there. I made out with Lisa a couple of times in college.” Dana looked faintly wistful. “She was a great kisser. Just the right amount of tongue, you know, not slobbery or wet at all, she wasn’t trying to get to my tonsils. If I were into women, I would have tried to steal her from Casey. They were barely together then.”
“Okay.” Dan planted his hands firmly on the table. “I’m just going to get up and leave before you say anything else disturbing.”
“That’s funny,” she said dreamily. “That’s very close to what he said.”
Outside, Dan discovered that Casey had not, in fact, left. He was sitting on the stoop of the side door, leaning back and staring out into the street. The air was starting to pick up the smoky grit of summer; there were neon lights everywhere, and cars going by, and Casey looked lost.
Dan dropped to sit next to him on the stoop.
“Hey,” said Casey, shuffling over automatically to make room for him.
“I miss anything good?”
“Nah, just Dana. She has some more insane theories.”
“She tell you we broke up?”
“Yeah, and I have to say, I did not realize you were together enough to break up.”
“I told her that.” Casey sighed deeply. “That didn’t fly.”
“You couldn’t be excused for not doing the reading?”
They sat in silence for a while, watching the cars together. A Porsche went by, way too clean, gleaming.
Dan said, “Abby thinks I wanted to go to L.A. to prove that I could do it without you.”
He could feel Casey stiffening next to him. The tension radiated out. Casey telegraphed it; he always had.
“Danny,” said Casey, cautiously, “you know—I told you…”
“That I could. I know. But how do I know you’re right, if I don’t try?” Dan shrugged, trying to deal with the itchy feeling creeping up between his shoulder blades. “I’ve been thinking about it. Trying to figure out whether I could, whether I’d want to.”
“I don’t want to work without you.” Casey’s voice had gone flat.
“I know. And I appreciate that. But—”
“You can’t be serious about taking the offer. Is it even still on?”
“I don’t know.”
“They saved the show, Danny. They saved our show.”
“In no small part because they expected you to be part of it.”
“They can find another anchor. Somebody talented. Hell, you’re great with Bobbi.”
“I don’t—are you fucking insane? Are you listening to yourself right now?” Casey had turned to stare at him. There was a pit opening up in Dan’s stomach, but it wasn’t so different from the usual, and that was part of the problem. “Bobbi? You think she can replace you?”
“I think somebody can.”
“You’d just walk out on the show. After everything they’ve done for you—after everything Dana—”
“This isn’t about Dana.” The pit was filling with a sort of slow-burning, leaden anger. “This is—you want me around, right?”
“Of course I do. I keep saying it.”
“Yeah. So why do you want me around?”
“What are you talking about?” Casey touched his head with both hands and gestured out with them. “This feels uncannily like talking to Lisa, I swear to God.”
“Great.” Dan went to get up, but Casey put a hand on his shoulder, pulling him back down.
“I’m sorry, Christ, I’m sorry. I didn’t—why do you think I want you around? You’re the best partner I’ve ever had. The best partner I’ll ever have. My friend.”
“Your friend, and your partner, and your sidekick.” Dan ground the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. It made little dancing bursts of color appear. He thought he’d heard that eye doctors told you not to do that kind of thing. “Sitting around, waiting for you, forever.”
“What…” Casey trailed off.
“Dana made an interesting point.” Dan could hear his own voice getting louder, harsher; he tried to dial it back. “She said the two of us—we’re obsessed with you. And she’s right, isn’t she? She’s right, and you know it. You’ve noticed.”
“She said, doesn’t he do it to you, too? And the thing is, Casey, I know exactly what she means. And you do. You—” He couldn’t get the words out, so he abandoned them. “And I don’t want that to be my life.”
“It doesn’t—it’s not—”
“It is like that. You know it, I know, apparently Dana knows it. Who else does? I have no clue. But if I go out to L.A., start over, maybe I—maybe I meet someone who—” He shut his mouth with a dry click.
“Don’t leave,” said Casey, very quietly. “Not now.”
“But see, that’s…” Dan hauled himself to his feet. This time, Casey didn’t try to stop him. Casey couldn’t even look at him. “That’s exactly the kind of thing she was talking about, don’t you see? She breaks up with you, and now you want to hang on even harder to your back-up. I’m your back-up, for life, only maybe I want more.”
And the anger was still there. Maybe it always would be. It was tempered with tenderness—nobody could look at Casey, sitting there, fists clenched and resting on his knees like he was getting ready to get up and hit somebody, and not feel some compassion for him.
“Who would you be, without the Casey McCall fan club of two?” said Dan. “I’m not asking to be a dick. I’m asking because it matters.”
“Fan club,” Casey echoed dully.
Dan shrugged. “Something like that.”
He caught a cab. Casey didn’t say anything else.
He was dreading the next day, to the point where he hit the snooze button too many times and showered for twice as long as he needed to. He shouldn’t have worried so much. When he got in, he had a moment’s panic at the empty office before he realized that it was Casey’s day off.
Of all their possible subs, he was working with Bobbi. Bobbi was great. She didn’t work in his office. She didn’t overhear the call he made to L.A. or the assurance that yes, the offer was still open, yes, even if he came alone, would he like to fly out?
He checked his calendar for his next day off. “Yeah.”
The show that night was smooth. It always went smoothly when Bobbi was on. The ridiculously expensive Wine of the Month Club membership he’d bought her had helped a little; the look on her face when she’d tripped and spilled an entire cup of coffee on his pants (pure, unrestrained hilarity) had helped a lot.
“You’re being weird,” she said to him at their third c-break. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m good.”
“You haven’t said anything flirtatious or sexual to anyone all night. That’s not like you.”
“Hey,” he protested, but he couldn’t work up a lot of feeling over it. “I have a lot on my mind, that’s all.”
Dana’s voice in his ear blared abruptly. “Don’t be weird, Danny. We like Bobbi.”
“We do,” Natalie added.
“I’m not being weird! And of course we like Bobbi. She’s great.”
“Well, thank you for that.” Bobbi briskly rapped her papers on the desk to straighten them. She was trying to look pissed but there was a little bit of a genuine smile bleeding through it.
“She’s exceptional,” he added earnestly to the cameras. “A class act, and we should all be grateful to have her in the studio tonight.”
“Stop it before I kick you,” said Bobbi.
“I will, but I’d just like it noted for the record that I appreciate your presence as a highly talented colleague.”
The show went smoothly. He mostly wasn’t too weird.
Nobody went out after the show. They were all still tired from the night before, and it was never the same without Casey. So Dan went straight home. He was just settling in, propping his feet up on the coffee table and switching on the television, when his phone rang.
He glared at it for a minute before he set down the remote with a sigh and got up to answer. “Hello?”
“Are you home?” asked Casey.
“Seeing as I’m talking to you from my home phone, which I picked up, I would really hope that answer would be as obvious to you as it is to me.”
“I meant—are you going to be there for a while?”
“I do live here, Casey.”
“Can I come over?”
Dan leaned forward to rest his forehead against the wall. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
“Why not?” There it was, that hint of a whine creeping into Casey’s voice.
“Because you’re going to try to talk me out of going to L.A., and it’s just going to be a big rehash of last night, and let me tell you, that was not a conversation I relished having the first time.”
“You’re going?” Casey sounded small. It was unfair. Casey wasn’t a short man, and he had a big presence, and yet somehow he’d managed to activate whatever mother hen instincts Dana and Dan shared.
“I’m flying out next week to meet with them. Nothing’s set in stone.” But it was cruel to say that; cruel to make it seem like he wasn’t going to, when he was starting to feel more and more sure that he would.
“Danny,” said Casey plaintively.
“You were so prepared to do it without me when you thought the show was ending. What the hell changed?” Dan banged his head against the wall a couple of times, very gently. “What’s different now?”
“We have the show! That’s what’s different—”
“No, it isn’t. We could have had the show out there. We could have done it. What’s different now is that it’s about me, I’m making the decision, it’s not being made for us.”
“That’s exactly what’s happening! You’re making this huge decision without me. You’re—do you honestly think I don’t know you could succeed on your own?”
“It’s not about what you think.”
“And I don’t understand that, I really don’t, because how could you not know that you could do it without me?” Casey sounded angry, which Dan had expected, and frightened, which he hadn’t. “Why do you need to leave to prove something we both know?”
“Maybe I want to see what my life looks like if it’s not revolving around you,” said Dan, as gently as he could.
“Then—stay in the city. You could find something to do here. Hell, look at Keith Olbermann, he’s bouncing all over the place.”
Dan splayed his hand between the wall and his forehead. “You want me to stay in New York?”
“Yes. It doesn’t—if you really feel that way about the show, fine, you can work somewhere else, but if you go to L.A. we can’t—I’m never going to get to see you.”
“Now who sounds like Lisa?” Dan laughed hollowly. “I’m not kidding, Casey. I’m done being jerked around. Dana was right, you can mark that on the calendar, I said it. Dana was right. I don’t think you even know you’re doing it half the time. But you are, and you do, and it hurts, and I’m tired of it.”
“Danny,” said Casey. He didn’t say anything else.
“That’s what I’m talking about. You want me to stay, and you can’t even tell me why.” Dan breathed carefully around the stitch that was developing in his side. His heartbeat was ticking right along, too fast, and his cheeks were starting to tingle. “Because you know it’s not what I want to hear, and you want that to keep on being good enough. It’s—it’s really not. I could—I want to have a family, eventually, when I’m doing being New York’s most eligible and good-looking bachelor, and how am I going to make something work if I’m still hung up on you?”
“You’re,” said Casey, but he dead-ended again.
“I’m going to L.A. next week. On my day off. It’ll be a whirlwind visit, but I’ll get a feel for the office and decide whether it seems like what I want to do. I’m telling Dana tomorrow, and I want you to be prepared for the fact that even if I don’t take this offer, I’m probably going to keep looking. Okay?”
Casey breathed into the silence of the line. He sounded like he’d been running a marathon.
“Okay,” Dan finally said, tired and wrung-out. “Good night.”
Casey still didn’t say anything. Dan hung up.
When Dan got into the office the next morning, Casey was there already, lips pressed together in a tight, permanent, disapproving moue. Casey didn’t look up when Dan came in; he didn’t answer Dan’s greeting; he didn’t look at or speak to Dan, except when he absolutely had to for writing the script.
Which was a problem, but not nearly as big of a problem as Dana. Dan went to talk to her not long after he got in.
“So the thing is,” he said, stepping into her office.
She sighed, scribbling something on a sheet of paper. “Is this about whatever bug crawled up Casey’s ass and died?”
“What did you do?” She sounded tired and annoyed.
“Told him I’m still thinking about taking the L.A. job.”
That got her attention. She set down the sheaf of papers and slowly looked up at him, lowering her reading glasses so that she could stare at him incredulously over them.
“Going out to L.A. next week for a look-see.”
“Well, I certainly hope you don’t expect me to give you any time off for it!”
“No. I’ve got my day off coming up. It’ll be a quick trip. You won’t even know I’m gone.”
“Unless you leave, for good.” Dana leaned back, folding her arms, glaring at him. “I can’t believe you. We just got this show back on track, and you want to bail?”
“I was thinking about what you said the other night.”
“What I said—Danny, I was getting shit-faced, I broke up with Casey even though we aren’t dating, why did you listen to me?”
Dan sat on the windowsill and twisted to peer out at the skyline. “Because you were right.”
She couldn’t think of anything to say to that right away. The sunlight was warm on Dan’s cheek and jaw. It was so bright, looking out, that his eyes watered a little.
“There are other things to stay for besides him,” she said.
“I know.” He shrugged. “But there are things worth leaving for, too.”
“Everyone here values you. Everyone here knows you’re—Danny, I’m not saying this lightly. You’re irreplaceable.”
Dan laughed. He couldn’t look at her. The buildings were light tan, or mirrored black, and it all felt like a postcard of New York: The Big Apple. I Heart New York. “That’s a nice thought, but it’s not true. You could get Bobbi on board, she’d be up to speed in no time. She’d love this gig. Hell, you could get half a dozen high-quality people out here in no time.”
“They wouldn’t be you. Our viewers love you. They tune in because of how you and Casey are together.”
“I want to know whether they’d still tune in if it were for me.” He held up a hand as she sucked in a breath. “It’s not about getting a big head, Dana, it’s about wanting to know who I am. If I’m not doing lines with Casey, am I still somebody? Am I still an anchor? How funny am I if he’s not writing half the jokes?”
“You’re fucking hilarious,” said Dana sharply. “I don’t know who or what made you think that you aren’t—”
“I’m saying there’s something to it.” Dan let his shoulders ease back against the cool glass. “The idea of making it on my own. For the first time, you know? It’s always been—it’s always been with you and Casey. And you and me have never been like me and Casey, or you and Casey. It’s always—we’re three points on a boomerang.”
Dana pushed her reading glasses up on her forehead. “I know.”
“You knew him for five years before I did.”
She gave him a lopsided smile. “I know.”
“So you know—it’s not like he’s going to change. And I’m not going to change, either, unless I make something change.”
“And it has to be this?”
“I don’t know what else it could be.”
“I mean, you could get a hobby.”
They both laughed. She said, “I’d lend you my gear.”
“You think this is a midlife crisis?”
“Wait, are you insinuating that my photography was a mid-life crisis? Because Daniel Rydell, I am not old enough—”
“No, no, no. I’m just saying. This isn’t something a fast red car can solve.”
“Have you tried? I’d subsidize you. I really don’t want to have to break in somebody new.” She sighed. “We’ve got a good thing going, Danny.”
“It’s a really good thing.”
“And you didn’t break it,” she added, with unspeakable tenderness, “no matter what you were telling yourself.”
That got to him; he had to look away again.
“I’m going to take a look.” He pushed himself up off the sill. “That’s all. I’ll… I’ll tell you when I figure things out.”
“Okay.” She blinked at him owlishly, then slid her reading glasses back down. The cherry-red frames made her look like a librarian.
“You look like a sexy librarian today,” he added.
“Out.” As he reached for the door, she said, “And for God’s sake, try to play nice with Casey today. His brain is somewhere dark and deep.”
“Yes, my liege.”
She wasn’t wrong about Casey’s brain. Casey still stubbornly refused to interact with him at all until somewhere shortly before the 6 o’clock rundown, when Dan snapped. “Are you trying to piss me off?”
“Yes!” yelled Casey, flinging his arms up in the air. A shower of paper erupted from his desk. “If I have to feel shitty, you should, too!”
“You can be a dick all you want, it’s not going to make me stay!”
“Well, apparently nothing I do or say is going to make you stay, so I might as well at least make this painful for both of us.”
After Casey said that, his eyes got big, like he’d said more than he meant to.
Dan pushed back from his desk.
“Yeah. That’s fair. That’s great. This is exactly the kind of—you know what, if you can’t get it together by the rundown, you need to be ready to take the heat from the network on why we’re melting down again, because I’m trying, here. I’m working with you.”
“For how long?” bellowed Casey.
The bullpen outside had gone suspiciously silent. People were craning their necks to peer in at them. A cold sweat was breaking out along Dan’s back, on the palms of his hands.
“I’m calm. Oh, I’m plenty calm,” said Casey, seething, but at a more moderate volume. “I’m as calm as any guy whose partner is leaving for no good reason can possibly be.”
“It’s not no good reason and you know it.”
“As far as I can see, it’s no reason at all.”
“Casey,” said Dan. “Case. Over the last couple of years you have seized every opportunity to tell me how much I owe you. How you brought me along. You don’t—I know we said we’d rebuild, I know I said some awful shit to you, too, but you don’t get to say things like that and pretend it never happened. You don’t get to tell me I’m not worth as much as you are and then walk away from that, keep me in your pocket like I’m the class hamster, okay? Sometimes there are things you can’t rebuild. Sometimes it’s not enough to renovate, you have to tear the whole damn thing down. Getting pissed at me isn’t going to change that or fix it. It’s making things worse.”
Casey had gone shocky white again, and it took him a moment to speak. When Dan got close enough these days, he could see the crow’s feet that lined Casey’s eyes. “I don’t want you to go.”
“We’re not getting younger,” said Dan, as gently as he could. “And I meant it. I want to—you know I never talked about settling down, right, before Abby, because I didn’t think—I couldn’t picture a world where I could—where I didn’t hate myself so much I couldn’t be trusted with a, a partner, a family. And now… I’m starting to think I could.”
“You always could,” said Casey, low and fast. “You were great with Charlie, you—”
“I’m not your wife, Casey.”
That shut Casey up. His mouth worked, but no sound came out.
“I’m not Lisa, I’m not Mrs. McCall, and no offense, but I’m not sure you’d know what happiness looked like it if bit you on the ass. So I’m going to check out L.A. I’m going to think about it. And if I decide that it’s right for me, I’m going to go.”
Casey rubbed his forehead with one hand, pressing hard. “This can’t be happening.”
“You’re just hitting the stages of grief. Dana was working on that before.”
“First Dana breaks up with me, and now you.”
“Yeah,” said Dan. “Funny how that works, isn’t it? We were never dating, either.”
Casey dropped his hand and looked up at Dan sharply, but Dan had gone back to the computer. He was actually getting some writing done. It was okay.
During the rundown Casey still wouldn’t look at him, but he kept it civil, and they muddled through. There were a lot of sympathetic sideways looks. Dan couldn’t imagine they’d last long; once people heard he was thinking about leaving, they’d be pissed, too. Somehow that didn’t bother him as much as it should have. He thought of the crew as friends, but compared to this thing with Casey, those friendships seemed suddenly paper-thin.
He watched them scattering around the set as they got ready for air that night. He ticked through a checklist in his head: Kim didn’t know about the panic attacks. Neither did Elliot, or Will, or Dave, or Chris. Natalie knew, because he’d once been drinking Grasshoppers with her—there was an amazingly bad decision, drinking Grasshoppers with Natalie—and he’d mentioned it. Jeremy probably knew because Natalie knew.
(It had taken him months to get used to the idea of calling them panic attacks. He didn’t have panic attacks. Those were for weak people, right? Or people with PTSD? People with worse problems than his, or with no real problems at all. Abby had given him a crooked non-smile when he’d said something to that effect. “I call them like I see them, Danny, and if you meet all the criteria…”)
Casey had barely known. He hadn’t known, really, until Abby had known; until Abby had convinced Dan; until Dan had said, too casually, with sweating palms, hey, you know that thing… and given one of his more enduring private hells a name.
That was different, though. Casey had known Dan had problems being around people. He’d had some idea.
Leaving New York meant leaving these people, but they were background, weren’t they? They were pleasant, comforting background noise. Everyone in his life liked him, from Mr. Hernandez at the corner bodega (complete with resident cat, winding lovingly around Dan’s ankles) to the Russian woman at the dry cleaner’s (he wasn’t convinced it wasn’t a mob front, but they did a great job with stains), the dozens of people he charmed effortlessly (it was a lot of effort, actually). Everyone liked him. Nobody knew him.
(Abby had said it first, or, more accurately, had misleadingly tricked him into saying it: “It sounds like you have a lot of admirers.”
“Damn right I do.”
“How many friends?”
“Well, I know—”
“How many people know you? I mean really know you. Know that you struggle with getting out of bed in the morning, and know how much time you still spend feeling responsible for Sam, and that you still get nauseated in crowds.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yeah, you do. How many, Danny?”
“Casey… Casey knows.”
“Does anyone else?”
“So you have one friend in New York.”
“Any friends anywhere else?”
“So you have how many friends?”
“Just the one, you harpy. Just one.”)
Leaving your best friend wasn’t, perhaps, the most intuitive thing in the world, was it?
The show that night didn’t go particularly smoothly. Casey had his psychopath grin out in full force, plastered on and looking so fake it made Alyson flinch. He wouldn’t make eye contact with Dan; he kept looking in between Dan’s eyes instead. But they limped through, and when they were finished, Dana said over the earpieces, “Well, that could have blown worse.”
“Thank you,” said Dan with deep sincerity into a monitor. “I will treasure that assessment always.”
“Yes, my fearless leader.” He snapped her a quick salute.
Casey had already gotten up, torn out his earpiece without a word but with some very dramatic flair, and headed off.
Dan followed more slowly. He was half hoping that by the time he got to their office, Casey would be gone, having stomped off in a huff. At first he thought he was right; their office was dark when he got there.
But when he flipped on the light, Casey was sitting on the couch, arms folded, glaring at him.
“Okay,” said Dan, “this is more than a little bit creepy. Are we going full Fatal Attraction here or what?”
“In this scenario, am I the one killing your pet rabbit?”
“I believe that you are, yes.”
“Then absolutely not.”
“Casey,” he said, and sat down in his desk chair, spinning to face Casey on the couch.
Casey shook his head tightly. “I don’t get it. Help me understand it.”
“I… okay. Look at us, right? We’ve been friends—”
“Best friends. For more than ten years.”
“Twelve years, fine.”
“If you’re going to torch everything we’ve worked for, I would really appreciate it if you could at least get the details right.”
Dan leaned back to roll his eyes at the ceiling. “Fine. We’ve been best friends for twelve years. In that time, you have gotten married, had a kid, been divorced, dated—as spectacular as those catastrophes have been to witness, I believe we can still call them dates—and carved out a career for yourself in the hostile world of broadcast sports. That’s pretty impressive.”
“Damn right it is.”
“What have I done?”
Casey was silent for a minute. “You—you made a career for yourself, too.”
“Except on days when you’re pissed at me, and then you say I was riding your coattails.”
“It’s not true.”
“Sometimes it feels true.”
“Lots of things that aren’t true feel that way. Danny.” Casey leaned forward, frowning intently. “Is there anything I can do, anything I can say, that changes this?”
Dan shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“Will you at least talk to Abby?”
“What, you don’t think I can make decisions on my own?”
Casey swallowed hard, but stuck to his guns. “I think this is a big one, and it would be a good idea to get her input before you make any final decisions.”
Still staring up at the ceiling, Dan shrugged. “That’s reasonable, I guess.”
Casey heaved a long sigh. “Sure.”
“I’m going to go now.”
Dan grabbed his jacket and left.
Abby, when he saw her a couple of days before the L.A. trip, raised her eyebrows sky-high when he told her about the plan.
“Come on,” he said, “you can’t be surprised.”
“Oh, but I can.”
“You said I was disappointed!”
“That’s very true.”
“So why are you surprised I called them back?”
“Why don’t you tell me why you think I’m surprised, and we can see how your ability to figure out what other people are thinking is going?”
“You thought I was too big of a wuss.”
“That is not actually correct.”
“Huh.” He raised his eyebrows back at her. “Really?”
“Because I thought you’d think I was too, I don’t know, entrenched. To change. And I’m thinking I don’t have to be entrenched.”
“Change can mean a lot of things to different people, Danny. I think it’s definitely interesting that you took concrete steps towards this change.”
“Interesting in a good way or a bad way? Because interesting can mean either of those things to you, I’ve seen it in action.”
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be good or bad. What would this change mean to you?”
He shrugged uneasily. “A fresh start. Getting to find out who I am when I’m not relying on Casey for everything.”
“Do you rely on Casey?”
“Are you kidding me?”
“You do talk about him a lot.”
“He’s the only person I talk to about anything, Abby, except you, and I have to pay you to do it.”
“Well, I am a professional. Payment is how that works.”
“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up.”
“Do I look like I’m laughing?”
“What do you think I’m doing?”
“I’m not inside your head, Danny, I honestly don’t know.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Have you told Casey about this?”
He crossed one leg over the opposite knee, abruptly fascinated by the lint accumulating near the hem of his pants. “Yeah.”
“How did he react?”
“Not well. He did not take it well.”
“Tell me more about that.”
So he did. He fumbled through parts of it, but he was doing a better job with talking about feelings, about how other people felt, without defaulting to and then I looked like a moron, which he’d said so many times in early sessions she’d eventually felt compelled to ban it.
“Huh,” she said when he finished.
“Yeah, I know.”
“What do you think he’s feeling?”
“What do you mean, what do I think? He’s feeling pissed.”
“Can you dissect that for me? Why is he pissed? What’s feeding into that?”
“You’re the shrink, can’t you tell me?”
“I’m the shrink you’re paying to teach you to be able to do it yourself.”
“That’s a very grammatically tangled sentence, there. I’m not sure how I’d even start to go about diagramming it.”
“Danny,” she said gently. People always seemed to feel the need to be gentle with him.
He twisted away from her to pick up a book off a shelf and flip through it blindly. “He feels… abandoned, I guess.”
“I’m pretty sure.”
“That’s more like it.”
“And it’s not like he doesn’t have the right. He just—he spent a long time making me and Dana feel… expendable. He doesn’t get to be shocked that it’s come back around to bite him the ass.”
“Doesn’t he?” she asked, with genuine curiosity.
“He really doesn’t.”
“Because that worked for him, for a long time, to get his needs met. And now suddenly it isn’t working anymore.”
“Well, his needs can suck it.”
“Danny,” she chided him. “Dana just cut him off romantically. You’re asking him to let go of both of the sources of emotional support in his life at the same time. Do you think there’s anything you can do to make the transition easier on both of you? And even if that doesn’t feel fair to you now, would it help you to feel better about the changes you’re considering?”
“Ugh.” He shoved the book back on the shelf. “You’re such a buzzkill.”
“That’s what you pay me for.”
“Do you think I should go to L.A.?”
“That, you don’t pay me for. That decision is outside of my pay grade. I can encourage you to keep asking yourself what you’re hoping to get out of it, and to consider honestly and seriously whether you expect to get that.”
“Any time,” she deadpanned.
He kept thinking about it the rest of the day; he’d seen her early in the morning, and he went to work after that. He kept sneaking glances at Casey. If Casey had been getting his emotional needs met through their friendship and through Dana, then how the hell had Dan been meeting his own emotional needs? What emotional needs did Dan have?
He’d never—he hadn’t told Abby—there were things he hadn’t talked to Abby about. He had a suspicion that she knew, or that she’d guessed at least some of it.
“Casey,” he said, somewhere around eight pm, when they had the gist of the show and there wasn’t much left to do besides polish and practice, “do you ever think about how you get your emotional needs met?”
Casey glanced up from his computer—Dan was pretty sure he was just playing Solitaire, from the pattern of clicking—with a look so hunted Dan actually laughed.
“You don’t have to answer. Man, you should see your face.”
“My… emotional needs?” said Casey, slowly and with care, as if he were chewing on saltwater taffy.
“Yeah. You know, how people need… human connections.”
“I suppose I would think I… have friendships.” Casey’s face was going through an alarming number of contortions.
“Yeah. Sure. Forget I asked.” Dan turned back to his computer—he favored Mah Jong—but he heard Casey inhale deeply through his nose.
“I haven’t thought a lot about it.”
Dan blinked at Casey. “You’re… we’re talking about it?”
“You seem to want to.” Casey’s jaw was set.
“Okay.” Dan pushed back from his desk, spinning in lazy half-arcs. “You’re not great at feelings.”
“This is news?”
“No, I’m just impressed that you’re trying.”
“Danny…” Casey didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands; he tried folding his arms across his chest, gave that up, put them on the edge of the desk—they kept migrating. “It’s important to you. I’m—you have to cut me some slack, here.”
“I mean it! I’m impressed.”
“Why do you… What brought it up?”
“Ah.” Casey got that constipated look he so often got when her name came up. “She thinks it’s important?”
“She kept talking about it this morning. Emotional needs, I mean.”
“And are yours…” Casey visibly searched for words. “Being met?”
Dan laughed; he couldn’t help it. “Oh, God, no.”
Casey leaned forward in his chair, elbows on the desk. “See, you just—what does that even mean?”
“Casey, who do I have? Who do I talk to?”
“Me,” said Casey fiercely. “You have me.”
“Yeah. And that’s it. That’s—you’re the only person I talk to, and you’re—I mean, look at you.” Dan waved at him. “You trying to talk about feelings is like trying to score a no-hitter with both arms tied behind your back while you’re being dunked in porridge.”
“It’s not all about talking. I know Abby—”
“You don’t know shit about what Abby does, that’s why—”
“Sure, because she has a degree—”
“Oh, come on, like it’s about—”
The door swung open. “Uh, guys?” said Kim, who’d apparently been deputized by the others. They were grouped behind her, a safe distance away. “Did you see the tape from the Orioles?”
“No,” said Casey, staring at Dan like he was trying to burn holes in him.
They didn’t pick the conversation up again.
The day before he left for L.A., Dan was in a good mood. He was feeling good. There was a lightness in his chest at the thought of getting on a plane. He liked flights, at least until he was trapped on them for long periods of time, and there was a certain pleasure to the packets of peanuts, the smiles of flight attendants.
Conversely, Casey oscillated between being a grouchy asshole and staring into space for minutes at a time.
There was a time in Dan’s life when he would have taken a small, bitter, secret joy in Casey’s apparent distress. This was not entirely not that time.
Dan was twirling a pencil, thinking hard about an intro for the story about the tennis match he really couldn’t have given less of a damn about, when he heard himself say, “Did you know Dana has a theory about first kisses?”
Casey, interrupted in the midst of a staring episode, blinked. “What?”
“She does. She was telling me about it a while back.”
“Dare I ask what this theory is?”
“She says if you fuck up a first kiss, that’s it. The relationship can never recover.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of pressure.” Casey’s face did something complicated. “Was she talking about me?”
“I think that is the kind of information I should protect at all costs, lest she sic Natalie on me.”
“I knew it wasn’t a good kiss.”
“She said Lisa was better.”
“I was unaware she had grounds for comparison.”
“No, I mean, I knew that, but… that’s cold. Compare a man to his ex-wife.”
“I’m sure that wasn’t the reason it didn’t work out.”
“It didn’t work out because Dana is insane. She’s crazier than a—help me out here.”
“I don’t think I will. I’d like to stay in her good graces, and you never know what she can hear.”
Casey frowned at the door. “It wasn’t a good kiss. I’m saying I know that, and I think I could have done better, except…”
He trailed off. Dan watched him for a long moment. Casey looked lost, and his tongue darted out to wet his lips.
(The thing was, it went like this:
Dan was an intern, technically reporting to Casey’s boss, but mostly ending up hovering around Casey’s work area—calling it a desk would have been a little too generous. Dan was an intern and Casey was tall and handsome and kept smiling at Dan like Dan was somebody, like he was worth something.
And Casey was getting married to Lisa, which should have made things easy. Easier. Dan was a lot of things, but he was not, and had never been, a cheater or a home-wrecker.
Casey had bad habits, very bad habits. Everyone could see the way Casey made excuses to go to Dana’s desk, lean on it, smile at her. Dana would get flustered and staple things she hadn’t intended to staple, and Casey would look smug and pleased for hours, or at least until the next time he got on the phone with Lisa and hung up with a harried look on his face.
The crew went out a lot, which wasn’t cheap in L.A., but someone would usually spot Dan a drink and then he could carry it around with him while he went from table to table, trying to outrun the rising nausea, the thundering heart, the dry, scratchy feeling of adrenaline at the back of his throat. Hit and Run Danny strikes again.
And one night, he’d escaped out the side door of the bar. Leaned against the brick wall—he could still remember the brick under his hands, the way the darkness leached the color out of it—and taken deep breaths, trying to shove the rising panic back down.
Casey had come out and found him there.
“Hey, Danny,” he said, voice quiet and warm in the darkness. The kind of warmth Dan knew damn well he didn’t deserve, had never deserved.
Dan couldn’t answer, just flailed a hand in his general direction.
Casey had stepped up to him—the alley was so dark, puddles gleaming with the reflections of streetlights from beyond the narrow opening—and put one finger under his chin, tilted his head up so their eyes met.
“It’s okay,” Casey said to him like a promise, in his deep, comforting voice, rich with the whiskey he’d been drinking. And he kissed Dan’s forehead.
It felt like a priestly blessing; Dan could feel his heart, against the odds, starting to slow down.
But Casey—Casey didn’t stop. He moved, nosing into Dan’s hair, peppering Dan with small, soft, dry kisses. Trailing around his hairline, down to his ear. Dan gasped as Casey’s lips brushed the curve of his ear. He was on fire, he was all nerves, he was shaking—
Casey stepped back, and the cold air rushed back in all around Dan where he’d been.
“It’s okay,” Casey repeated, and nodded firmly at Dan, and went back inside.
Dan ended up shelling out the money to catch a cab home from there so he wouldn’t have to go back inside and ask anybody for a ride, and when he got home he went through the remaining four beers in his fridge and then fell asleep so hard he missed his alarm the next morning and had to stumble through a red-faced apology for being late.
Casey never mentioned it again, never did anything like it again. Dan wondered, from to time, whether he’d somehow been slipped something; the downside of having been so fond of drugs before was knowing perfectly well what they felt like, and knowing he hadn’t.)
“Except what?” said Dan, ten years or a thousand years older, humoring Casey about Dana for the umpteenth time.
“Except I—don’t you think it’s weird that I didn’t do anything sooner? Didn’t say anything?”
“Well, yeah. You had that whole bee in your bonnet about the statute of limitations. You’re a weird man, though. It made sense that you’d be weird about it.”
“I started thinking, what if I was making excuses for myself? What if I was coming up with reasons not to do it because I didn’t want to do it?”
“That’s crazy,” said Dan, shaking his head. “Dana’s great. She’s a knockout, she’s brilliant, you’d have been lucky to have her.”
“Of course she is, and I would have, except.”
“I don’t—how do you know when you really want someone?” Casey raised his eyebrows, spreading his hands. “I thought I really wanted Lisa, and we all saw where that went.”
“Off a cliff, in flames.”
“So you choked on kissing Dana?”
“I choked bad.”
“I guess she was right, then.”
“Fucking up the first kiss.”
Casey stared off into space. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “I don’t remember my first kiss with Lisa. You know that? Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to have sex with her, I enjoyed having sex with her, but I don’t even remember the first time we kissed. I can’t tell you if it was the first time we went out—we went to the movies—or at a party at her friend’s dorm. I think it was one of those two times.”
Dan shrugged. “Well, I’m not an expert. I’ve never had anything that worked out, so I have to assume by default that the first kisses weren’t up to snuff.”
Casey’s gaze snapped back to Dan. “I find that hard to believe.”
“What, you’ve got opinions on how I’d kiss?” Dan said it offhand, but Casey flinched.
“Maybe,” said Casey. “Yeah.”
They were quiet for a while after that. Dan watched the pulse ticking in Casey’s throat, how his jaw clenched.
“You don’t…” Dan sighed, standing up, cracking his neck. “You don’t get to do this, Casey. Not now, and not anymore.”
“I know.” Dan heard his own voice; it sounded like someone else, unbelievably patient and kind. “But you still don’t get to.”
He left. He bugged Jeremy about footage in the editing room. Jeremy clearly didn’t figure out that something was wrong, but then again, Jeremy had the emotional literacy of a brick. (Another thing Dana was right about, among many.) He was more pleased with himself when Natalie failed to notice. Natalie, in her turn, was more interested with his upcoming trip to L.A. and in listing all of L.A.’s shortcomings as compared to New York.
“We have musicals, Danny,” she said like he was very stupid while he was trapped in the green room, getting his makeup applied.
“I am aware of that.”
“L.A. has smog,” she persisted. Next to him Casey continued his imitation of a wooden board.
“The smog has actually improved—”
“L.A. has more plastic surgeons per capita than anywhere else in the U.S.”
“Is that true? It feels like you just made that up.”
“New York has the Statue of Liberty. Liberty. It’s kind of a big deal.”
“I know, Natalie.”
“Most importantly, New York has Sports Night, and I seem to recall you liking Sports Night quite a bit.”
“I do,” he said. Something of his sincerity must have bled into it, because she paused to meet his eyes in the mirror.
She bit her lip.
“You won’t even know I’m gone,” he assured her. It was wrong somehow that those words made her face scrunch up like she was trying not to cry.
She left. The show was fine. Casey offered to drive him to the airport.
“I’d better get a cab.” It seemed very peculiar that Dan was having to do so much of the comforting, here.
“I think it would be better if I got a cab.”
“Danny,” said Casey, pleading.
Dan sighed. “What do you want? More time to talk me out of it? I’m going, I’ll be back in no time, it’ll be fine.”
He gave in, against all his better angels.
Casey was quiet on the walk to the car. Dan had brought his bag with him to the office, so they were all set to head straight to the airport. Just one battered carry-on, slung over his shoulder; the trusty bag he’d brought with him on assignments for the past four years, ever since his old bag had exploded spectacularly and inconveniently somewhere over Austin, and he’d been left scrounging his rolled-up underwear from under the plane seat ahead of him.
Their steps echoed in the perpetual twilight of the cavernous parking garage.
“See, the thing is,” said Casey abruptly, as Dan felt the heavy, cold metal of the buckle click under his hand, “I’m not going to be good at this. Not all at once, and maybe not ever.”
“No. You don’t.” Casey sucked in a breath. “I’m trying to tell you something.”
“Maybe tonight’s not a good time.”
“Maybe it is.”
“Maybe I don’t want to hear it.”
“I know you think—” Casey took a deep breath, shifting his grip on the wheel as he eased the car out of the parking space. “I’m only—”
“I mean it.” Dan tipped his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. “I don’t want to hear it tonight, Casey. Save it.”
“When I get back. When I’ve had some space. Some chance to think.”
“I think you should have all the information before you start thinking.”
“I don’t agree.”
“You’re so pig-headed—”
“Oh, you’re accusing someone of being stubborn? That really is a laugh, right there, some real excellent food-grade Michigan export humor. If you’re going to be like this the whole way to the airport, pull over and let me out. I’ll get a cab.”
Casey, blessedly, shut the hell up.
The rest of the drive was tense and silent. “Which airline?” was the next thing Casey asked, and as he pulled up to the curb to let Dan out, he added, “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” asked Dan, fingers resting on the curve of the door handle.
“For fucking it up,” said Casey. “Our—you know.”
Dan sat, in a kind of stunned silence, and then opened the door and got out, on autopilot, and he was still feeling vaguely post-detonation by the time he got settled in for an obnoxiously long wait.
It took the flight attendant three tries to get his attention so he could say “yeah, sure” to the blanket.
Casey was—had he just admitted—well, that was a new one.
It didn’t change anything. Did it? Could it?
Maybe he hadn’t been—
No, he was; that was it—
Dan fell asleep somewhere over the Midwest, mind struggling, tangled in questions for which he didn’t have good answers, and his dreams ended up mostly being about mundane daily tasks falling apart under his hands. The best thing was that the seat next to him was empty.
By the time he got into L.A., it was morning, and he’d been on a plane for approximately fifteen thousand hours. He scrubbed at his face, trying to wake up.
His good mood of the day before had evaporated completely. He got off the plane in the jostling herd, carrying his bag. No sense in getting a hotel room when he was going to be gone in less than twenty-four hours. He found a bathroom that was free of janitors, and he washed his face, brushed his teeth, changed his clothes. He met his eyes in the dim glow of the lights. They were red, a little puffy, but not bad.
The driver was waiting with a sign for Mr. Daniel Ryddel, which was close enough.
At the studio, he met their guy, Walter, who had combed, gelled-back, dark brown hair and was wearing a trim beige suit. Walter shook his hand briskly.
“How was the flight?”
“Long,” he said, punctuating it with a jaw-cracking yawn. “But not too bad. Tell me about the operation you’ve got here.”
It was surreal. They were wooing him. For his own sake—nobody even mentioned Casey. It was like they were afraid that if they mentioned Casey, Dan would suddenly change his mind, fleeing back to the comfort and safety of Sports Night.
Their facilities were great. Shiny, sparkly, new. Their people were also shiny and sparkly. The women had immaculately done hair and outfits at least ten percent less work-appropriate than the women in New York; none of the men had a single strand of gray showing and everyone had capped, brilliantly white teeth. Everyone, up to and including the guy selling sushi downstairs. Dan worked in television, but come on.
They took him to a fancy restaurant for lunch, and then talked at him some more about benefits, had him meet the anchor who would be his prospective partner. A pleasant enough guy, former college baseball player, a hearty grin and firm hand-shake. “I’m a big fan,” said the guy. Terrence. “I know it’s going to sound self-serving, coming from me, but I’ve watched you for a long time, and I think you’ve got a really great style. Both for writing and for how you present yourself on screen.”
“Thanks,” said Dan. He could picture working with Terrence.
Walter grinned with too many white-capped teeth and ushered him away again.
After they were finished with him, Dan begged off on the grounds that he was just going to visit the beach. “Good memories, you know,” he said, and Walter beamed.
“Some damn fine beaches around here.”
“Good surfing. You surf?”
“A little.” He’d surfed twice in his life, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him from letting Walter imagine that he was an accomplished surfer.
“I’ll let the beach make that argument for me, then!” Walter laughed and clapped Dan on the back.
It was different, of course, with the specifics in place. Knowing where his office would be, meeting Terrence, having a feel for the nitty gritty—it made it easier to hold each element up to Sports Night, compare things directly instead of measuring Sports Night against a nebulous image of a perfect, hermetically sealed L.A. fantasy.
The driver dropped him off at Dockweiler, because it was close to LAX. It would be convenient, and he had some good memories, if somewhat fuzzy, from his previous brief stint as a denizen of L.A.
For a disorienting moment, there were too many people. The sun was already perilously close to the horizon, pink and orange, the sky full of fire that streamed out in all directions. He shifted the strap of his bag further up his shoulder and found a bathroom to change into his jeans and take off his dress shirt, and then he claimed a small slice of beach for himself and his sweating bottle of water. The beach was covered in families, young people, milling around. Lots of them packing up, talking and shouting on all sides.
He laid down. The still-warm sand cradled him, just as he’d pictured.
There was something hilarious about the idea of escaping from the all-consuming, overwhelming presence of Casey in his personal and professional life in L.A. This was where he’d first come out to work for Casey. The bar where they’d gotten drinks back in the day was gone, he’d checked, replaced by a trendy bistro that served sushi and burgers, along with wheatgrass juice. It seemed terribly fitting.
The waves rolled in, incessantly. Planes droned overhead. There was sunscreen in his bag; he slapped some on when he remembered it, as his skin began to tingle with the first edges of pain.
L.A. felt different than he’d expected. The L.A. he remembered was the city he’d been in when he was twenty, twenty-one. That soft-focus lens might not be the right one to look at it through.
He wished he’d had time to hit up the aquarium. The symphony. Casey didn’t like the symphony, but maybe it would grow on him. Maybe it would have grown on him.
By the time the ground started getting cool, and he was pink and covered in crusted sand working its way into every crease in his jeans, it was time to peel himself up off the beach and catch a cab to the airport. The flight attendants were polite about the amount of sand he tracked in, but he could see the visions of Dustbusters dancing in their heads.
He had done a fantastic job of not thinking about Casey too much. He felt like he deserved some credit for that. Maybe a small award of some kind that he could use as a paperweight.
The downside of flying out and back in one day was that by the time he got in to work the next day, he was exhausted and in no mood for any shenanigans. He hadn’t slept well, surprising no one, and although he’d certainly enjoyed the luxury of being able to shave in his own mirror, he’d nicked himself and now sported not one but three red scabs that Makeup was going to give him hell about on top of his light but noticeable sunburn.
“Coffee?” said Casey as Dan came in.
Dan stared at Casey as he threw his jacket over the couch. “What?”
Casey held out a cup. It was, indeed, full of coffee, steaming and hot.
“Thanks,” said Dan dubiously, accepting it. The warmth penetrated through the cup. It was already a hot day in New York, but the office was blasted so thoroughly with air conditioning that the heat was a pleasant counterpoint.
“How was the trip?”
“Would you say it was amazing?” Casey pressed, displaying his trademark total lack of tact.
Dan grabbed the back of his desk chair and spun it restlessly before sitting down. “Right now, I’m running on about three hours of sleep, so I don’t know that I’d call a divine visitation amazing, frankly.”
Casey hummed noncommittally and went back to checking his e-mail.
Dana was next, walking into their office with a tape for Casey. “So, Danny,” she said, sitting on the edge of his desk, playing with his pencil sharpener, “how was L.A.?”
“Bright, hot, and brief.”
“Any thoughts on it you’d like to share?”
“Think I just did.”
Casey said, “He didn’t sleep. He probably shouldn’t be prodded for at least a couple of hours.”
“Thank you, Casey, for that display of understanding and sensitivity.”
Dana tapped a pen against her mouth. “You have a couch. You could nap.”
“I don’t need to nap.” Dan stretched; he was tired, was the thing, like a feeling of molasses clinging to him. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but he really wasn’t in the mood for banter of any kind.
“You can nap on my couch. Or in the editing room.”
“It’s fine, really, Dana.”
“I’m just saying, whenever you’re ready to talk about L.A…”
“I’m not ready yet.”
“But when you are.”
“I’ll come find you. You don’t need to track me down.”
“Fine.” She shrugged and hopped off his desk. “Get that piece on Ultimate Frisbee prettied up.”
“It’s not a sport!” Dan called after her as she left.
“It’s kind of a sport,” Casey chimed in.
“You’re not helping.”
Casey stuck his tongue in the corner of his mouth as he started typing a reply e-mail. “Maybe I’m not trying to help.”
“That sounds like a reasonable explanation for how much helping you’re not doing.”
“What unruly sentence construction.”
“Don’t taunt me, I’m very tired.”
“The couch is right there.”
Casey managed to let it go for the better part of an hour before he spun around, abandoning his computer completely.
“Here’s the thing,” said Casey.
Dan groaned, bending until his forehead rested on his keyboard. He was pretty sure it was typing GGGGHHGHHHHGHH for him. That seemed fitting.
“There are things I think you should know.”
“I just want to get through this show,” Dan pleaded. “Just… one show, with no drama. Can we do that?”
Casey’s mouth set in a thin line. “Depends. Have you made up your mind about L.A. yet? Because, if I remember correctly, you didn’t want to hear what I had to say before you left, and if you still don’t want to hear it—”
“I want to hear it, I promise, just not right now.”
“I got you coffee.”
“And if I had known a conversation would be the price—”
“Specifically so that you’d be awake enough—”
“One show,” said Dan in sheer desperation. “Tonight, you let me go home and sleep. No phone calls. No surprise visits. Tomorrow, I show up, and we have all the conversations in the world, and if you want to set my hair on fire on air, we’ll come up with an excuse. But I just… I need today.”
Casey leaned back in his chair, folding him arms forbiddingly. “You haven’t told L.A. yes for sure yet?”
“I have not.”
“All right. One show.”
Dan bowed over his clasped hands at Casey in thanks, and then went back to his computer. His collar kept rubbing against the front of his neck, where the sunburn was the worst.
The afternoon passed in a blur of trying to write and peppering Casey with questions about the games he’d missed while traveling. Casey, evidently against his will, was settling back into their usual routine, the give and take.
After the six o’clock rundown, he realized he had time for a nap, and that he might actually be tired enough to do it.
“I’m worried I’ll crash too hard,” he said to Casey, who nodded sympathetically. “I won’t be awake enough for the show.”
“You have to be up for the ten o’clock rundown anyway.”
“I do. Presumably Dana would murder me if I wasn’t ready.”
“And presumably you’ll take care of anything critically important that comes up while I’m sleeping.”
“I will. Go for it, Danny.”
He crawled onto the couch, pulled his jacket up around his shoulders for a blanket, and was out like a light.
He woke up slowly, a half-remembered feeling from a dream weighing him down. His face was turned to the back of the couch. The office was getting dark, no fluorescent lights to brighten the descending twilight; Dana was talking to Casey in a very soft voice.
“—awake for the show?”
“It’s not even nine, let him sleep.”
They were quiet. Then Dana said, “Do you think he’s going to go?”
Casey inhaled raggedly. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t want him to go.”
“I think he knows that.”
“You don’t want him to go.”
“I told him. Several times.”
There was a vague clinking sound. Dana said, “I feel like it’s my fault.”
“I said some things to him—”
“That does seem more likely.” There was a smile in Dana’s voice, but it was gone when she spoke again. “I’m sorry.”
“Damn it, Dana.” Casey’s voice was weirdly thick.
“I’ll let him sleep.”
“See you at the rundown.”
The door glided open and whuffed softly shut again. Dan slid back into sleep. It wasn’t even nine yet. He had time.
The next time he woke up, it was in the middle of a very vivid dream about being stuck back in security for LAX, watching cart after cart drive away for the outlying terminals without him. Casey’s hand was on his shoulder, shaking him: “Danny—Danny, it’s almost time for the rundown—”
“Augh!” He flailed into consciousness and rubbed at his eyes. “Damn. What. Okay.”
Casey straightened up. He looked absurdly tall from that angle. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Just tired.” Dan slowly pushed himself up. “Was dreaming about LAX.”
“That has to be a nightmare.”
“You’re here. You caught your flight.”
“Thank God,” muttered Dan, scrubbing at his mouth with the back of his sleeve. He’d drooled at some point.
They went to the rundown and Casey kept tossing bits of paper at Dan for no apparent reason. Natalie and Dana made meaningful eye contact. Kim patted Dan’s sleeve soothingly. Dan did his best to ignore all of it.
During the first c-break, Dan said suddenly, “Oh my God, remember Felicia?”
“Oh, man, Sarris?”
“Yeah, when he—”
“And you were out watching Tom Waits—”
“Which was amazing, man, a once in a lifetime experience, and I remain eternally grateful—”
“I had to do half a show alone because Steve lost his marbles on air—”
“It was so funny!”
Dan started laughing first, and Casey couldn’t keep up his façade of stiff disapproval; he cracked up, too, dissolving into laughter.
“That was a hell of a show,” said Dana into the earpiece. “We don’t dedicate shows to Felicia!”
“Well, girlfriends in general,” Jeremy contributed in the background.
“But particularly not Felicias,” said Dan. Casey smacked his arm, grinning at him.
They came back from the c-break with an easier rapport than they’d been managing before.
“Here’s the thing,” said Dan after the show, grabbing his coat from their office.
“Yeah?” said Casey cautiously.
“I don’t think I need a whole show tonight.”
Casey squinted at him in confusion. “Well, you had one.”
“No, you know what I mean. To think. The twenty-four-hour deal.”
“Walk with me.”
Casey nodded, jaw tensing up.
Dan took them to the deserted editing room, shutting the blinds, sitting in the rolling chair. Casey sat on the couch, putting his palms flat on his thighs, then clenching his fists, forcing himself to relax and unclench them; screaming nerves if Dan had ever seen them.
“I’m not going,” said Dan.
“Okay.” Casey nodded, breathed carefully. “Okay. To L.A.?”
“Anywhere. I’m going to stay.”
The smile that broke out on Casey’s face was dazzling. It was like how the sun on the water at the beach had broken into a million pieces and reformed with every fresh wave.
“So you can—you can stop,” said Dan quietly.
“Stop doing the—you know, the thing you do. To Dana. To me. You can dial it down.”
“Oh.” Casey digested that. “What if I don’t want to dial it down?”
“Casey,” said Dan, tired beyond bearing, wondering if maybe he should have left the conversation for another day after all, “of course you do.”
“Maybe I don’t.”
“You don’t want to fuck me.” Dan slid down in the chair, leaning back, closing his eyes. “So leave it alone.”
He was tired. He was very tired. It had been a long couple of days after a very stressful couple of weeks. Casey didn’t say anything; that had been Dan’s trump card, the bone-deep certainty that if he named it, Casey would run away like the scared jackrabbit he was.
Casey got up. Good, thought Dan. They could go back to how things were, how they were supposed to be, but with Dan bolstered by the knowledge that he was worth another quality show courting him. He could get another job, somewhere else, if he really needed to start over.
It startled him so badly he almost fell out of the chair when he felt Casey’s finger under his chin. His eyes flew open. The sunburn tingled, just a little flare of pain where Casey touched.
Casey was standing next to the chair, staring down at him with an intensity that raised the hair on the back of his neck.
Casey leaned down and kissed his forehead. The resonance jarred him deeply, the overlay on a decade-old memory. He was frozen. Casey kissed him again, lips moving across his forehead, his hair, the give and crackle of the gel from the show making it feel profoundly different than it had in that alley.
Casey’s lips touched his ear. He gasped, helplessly.
Casey drew back; searched Dan’s face, and then leaned in, slowly, tilting his head, closing his eyes.
Dan’s eyes closed. Casey’s lips touched his.
And Dana had been—not wrong; she probably wasn’t wrong, she’d been there, after all; but this wasn’t like what Dana had said, at all. Casey was kissing him searchingly, insistently, until Dan opened up and let him in, until Casey was cupping Dan’s face in his hands and Dan was holding onto Casey’s shirt with both fists clenched into the cloth.
They broke apart, Casey letting out a hissing gasp. Dan stared up at him. Neither of them let go.
“You sure about that?” said Casey, barely audible.
“I—” Dan couldn’t find a single word. It was like getting hit by the ladder all over again.
“I fucked it up.” Casey’s fingers were tracing over Dan’s throat, behind his ears, tickly. Sending shivers down Dan’s spine. “I knew it. Right away. I shouldn’t have—I was married—but you were—and you’ve always been, you’re just.” He stooped, still weirdly serious and intent, to press a shallow kiss to Dan’s mouth. “I want—you need to know, I need you to know.”
“What am I supposed to do with this?” Dan looked at his fists, still fastened in the fabric of Casey’s shirt.
Casey stilled. “Do you—is that a no?” He sounded incredulous, breathless. His face was stripped bare.
Dan watched as one of his hands unclenched from Casey’s shirt and lifted to press his palm against Casey’s cheek. Casey turned into it, eyes drifting shut.
“You really want to do this?” Dan’s voice was weirdly loud in his own ears, gravelly, like he’d swallowed glass. “You know it’s going to be a whole thing. It’s—we’re famous. We’re famous jocks.”
“We’re analysts,” murmured Casey without opening his eyes. He kissed Dan’s palm. “We’re sports nerds.”
“We’re anchors, we’re—oh, God,” said Dan as Casey reached up and put two of Dan’s fingers into his mouth. He was so hard it hurt, an ache that throbbed in time to his heartbeat.
Casey let Dan’s wet fingers slip free. The air was freezing on them.
“I want to fuck you.” Casey met his eyes. Said it clearly, out loud. “Do you want to fuck me?”
Dan tackled him to the floor. Casey said “Oof!” and actually giggled before Dan got them back to the business at hand—kissing—Casey touching him greedily, running his hands over Dan like he’d never—well, he’d never really been allowed to before, had he? Ten years of rationing out touches—ten years of paying attention to where their hands went—
“Oh, shit,” said Dan, sitting up. “West Coast Update—” The upstairs editing room was nowhere near as nice as theirs, and the West Coast Update crew knew it.
“They’re going to—”
“We’ve got to—”
They stared at each other in mutual anguish.
“My place?” said Casey hopefully.
“You’re such a creature of habit,” Dan muttered, getting painfully to his feet. “Oh, my God, we’re going to have walk through this place like this—”
“Just think of Isaac—”
“Why would you do that to me—”
“Well, thinking of baseball isn’t going to do it,” said Casey very sensibly, and they both cracked up. Dan felt light-headed, on the verge of hysteria.
Abby’s going to have a field day with this, he thought to himself, very clearly, and laughed harder.
After a minute, Casey stuck his head out into the hallway. “All clear,” he reported, and the two of them took off for their office, actually running, racing each other. They burst into their office, still laughing.
Dan looked at Casey, and thought about how nobody from West Coast Update was likely to be coming into their office; he could see Casey thinking the same thing. Casey’s hair was standing up at crazy angles, cheeks flushed.
“Fuck it,” said Casey decisively, and he pushed Dan down onto the couch.
It drove the breath out of Dan’s lungs. He turned his head to catch Casey’s mouth in an off-center kiss, and Casey shuddered, breathing heavily, putting his hands on Dan’s hips. They kissed for a while, touching as much as they could, Casey’s hands creeping under Dan’s shirt, thumbs stroking his skin.
“You ever—” Dan said.
Casey hesitated; nodded. “Once. Well. Twice.”
“Okay, you’re one up on me.”
“I wasn’t prepared to be the expert here.”
“Hey, I’ve had—I’ve done threesomes.”
“You’ve had a threesome and it was with two women.”
“I’m still very hip.”
“I’m just saying,” Casey ground against his thigh and a tremor ran through him, “these may be some very amateurish blowjobs.”
“I can live with that if you can.”
Casey popped the button at Dan’s waistband with his thumb.
“Girls love that move, don’t they,” said Dan.
“You love it, too, admit it.”
“You know, this attitude is troubling.” The effect was spoiled by how his voice skated dangerously high towards the end, when Casey started to tug his zipper down agonizingly slowly, tooth by tooth. “You’re really—”
“That’s the plan.” Casey lifted his head and looked at Dan in the half-light that permeated the office at night. “You thought I didn’t—” He shook his head. “It’s always—it’s been you. I just didn’t—it was a lot.”
It was a lot, no getting around that; it was going to be a lot, assuming—well. Maybe they didn’t need to make room for assumptions yet.
“Yeah.” Dan’s voice cracked as Casey ran the backs of his knuckles along Dan’s cock through his boxers. He found himself grabbing Casey’s hand.
“Too much?” Casey’s voice was low.
“You—” said Dan. “Two hours ago I thought you were str—”
“I said I was sorry for—”
“I didn’t know that was our first kiss,” said Dan. “I thought—I don’t know what I thought. I thought you were screwing with me or something.”
“I wanted to touch you.”
“You were married.”
“It’s not the first time I’ve done something selfish.” Casey had let his hand drift back to Dan’s hip, was resting his cheek on Dan’s stomach. The weight of his head helped; so did not having to look him in the eye. “Not the last time, either.”
“You would have told me,” said Dan. “Before I left.”
“To make me stay.”
“To make sure you knew you had options.”
“That’s selfish, too.” It hurt to say; it hurt to be right. “You couldn’t—you weren’t going to let me go, even if that was right for me.”
“I wasn’t going to let you leave without telling you so you had all the facts.” Casey nuzzled into his stomach. It was completely insane. “L.A., Danny. You were going to L.A.”
“I know. I was there.”
“If you had to get away from me—look, it took me so long to make up my mind about Dana, and then, then I knew, it was time, and then it looked like the show was going to go away, and I thought, well, fuck it.”
“You wouldn’t have stayed for me,” Casey mumbled into Dan’s shirt. “Not just for me. I thought—I wasn’t going to ask you to.”
“That sounds about like you.” He was running a hand through Casey’s hair. Stiff from gel still, but once he crunched through the top layer, he could get to silk-soft hair below.
“But I—this isn’t—I want this to happen.” Casey’s hand crept above Dan’s waistband, and he cupped his hand around Dan’s side, under his ribs.
“Yeah.” Dan stroked two fingers down the back of Casey’s neck. “Me, too.”
Casey looked up at him. “Still too much?”
Dan shook his head. Casey slid his hand over to cover Dan’s cock. The pressure made Dan hiss through his teeth, and then Casey had slipped Dan’s cock out through the slit in his underwear. The cold air hit him for a split-second ahead of the heat of Casey’s mouth.
His back arched involuntarily. Casey was clumsy but trying, massaging Dan’s cock with the flat of his tongue. The warmth came over him in waves, and he found himself hanging on to the back of Casey’s head for dear life. He tried to ease off, let Casey breathe. Casey took him deeper; deeper; moaned, the vibration sending shocks of pleasure through him; swallowed around him—that was it. The orgasm he’d barely been holding at bay hit him.
Casey choked a little, swallowing, and Dan felt woozy.
Casey was still swallowing, licking his lips, when he eased back up the couch. There was a second’s hesitation as he pulled back, but Dan didn’t let him, hooking an arm around Casey’s neck and hauling him in for a kiss.
Casey groaned, letting his full weight down onto Dan, and there was Casey’s cock, hard against Dan’s hip. Dan reached down with his free hand, and Casey tried to help him. The two of them managed to fumble Casey’s cock out, and Dan pushed Casey up to sit on the couch.
“Think it’ll be more comfortable,” said Dan, swinging awkwardly to kneel on the floor. Casey nodded. Dan took a deep breath.
Casey, it turned out, couldn’t be quiet. He tried, but he kept making noises, and Dan found himself chasing them, doing the same thing over again, doing it harder, or faster. He let Casey slide almost completely out of his mouth, then went down fast, so Casey’s cock was almost touching the back of his throat. Casey choked on a gasp and came in hard, wet pulses that filled Dan’s mouth.
Dan kept him in his mouth until a shiver had Casey pushing him away, too tender. He rested his chin on Casey’s knee, watching Casey’s cock in the low light, twitching and softening.
“Danny,” whispered Casey.
“Yeah?” He felt curiously detached. If Casey was going to do something stupid, or selfish, or mean, this would be the time he’d put his money on. Right now, while they were both still exposed. After Casey felt vulnerable. Casey had never been good at that.
“I’m—I’m in love with you.”
Dan risked glancing up at his face. Casey’s jaw was clenched, a muscle jumping in it. He looked terrified.
“Huh,” said Dan. He lifted his hand and wiped the back of it across his lips, which felt swollen, tingling.
“You should know,” whispered Casey. “You have a right to know.”
“That was… I thought you wouldn’t say it. To make me stay.”
“I couldn’t say it.” Casey shook his head in a staccato movement. “Not until—I wasn’t raised—but you know that.”
“I had some idea.”
“Your knees have to hurt.”
Casey tugged at his elbow. “Come up here.”
Dan ended up climbing onto the couch next to Casey, letting his legs hang across Casey’s lap. Casey touched him again, lightly, the pads of his fingers skating over the skin just above Dan’s cock, which twitched in response.
“Fifteen years around Dana and Lisa. Twelve around me. You don’t do casual very well,” said Dan.
Casey shook his head mutely.
“Good,” said Dan. “I’m—in love with you, too.”
He kissed Casey, and Casey kissed him back, and by the time they got their act together enough to leave, they had, by mutual unspoken agreement, decided to take Casey’s car to Casey’s place, and they got to do it all over again. On a bed, thankfully. Dan’s knees hurt. That time he experimentally mouthed at Casey’s balls, and Casey made a strangled, breathy noise before coming an impressive amount for a man who’d already had one orgasm that night, and Dan had to laugh, wiping the come off the side of his cheek.
He paused when he saw Casey staring at him, transfixed.
“You’re into that, huh?”
“You should try it sometime.” Casey’s voice went husky; he cleared his throat. “You look…” He trailed off, but he ran a fingertip over Dan’s cheek, smearing the come even more.
“Ridiculous? I’m guessing it’s ridiculous.”
“Like really, really good porn,” said Casey, seriously.
Dan couldn’t help it. He cracked up, and after a minute of looking scandalized and betrayed, Casey had to laugh, too.
Abby raised her eyebrows. “Huh.”
“I didn’t see that coming.”
“Yeah, but you never do.”
“It’s part of my job to anticipate these things, Danny.”
“Well, come on. Everyone thought he was straight.”
“Except that apparently he’d kissed you, which you never disclosed.”
Dan rolled his eyes. “Come on, why would I?”
“Because therapy? This expensive and time-consuming thing you’re doing? Works better if you tell me stuff.”
He grinned lazily at her.
“Can’t say it’s been bad for your mood so far, though.”
“Funny how that works.”
She propped her chin up on her first. “How do you feel about all of this?”
“You feel great?”
“Yeah. I feel like… maybe I could be mad. Maybe I should be. That he didn’t say anything to me for ten fucking years. Or maybe I should be scared, that I’m another Dana situation, and he’s going to realize he’s doing something fucktastically stupid.”
Dan shook his head. “I’m not. I’m not mad, I’m not scared, I’m just—Abby, I feel okay.”
“And how is that, for you? It’s not really your normal state.”
“It’s weird. But good weird.”
“And if it—you know, if this all goes to hell and blows up in our faces, I feel like… I think I could go out there and start over. Get another job.”
“So the trip to L.A. helped with your self-confidence?”
“It really did.”
“I thought so.”
Abby gave him a crooked smile. “Remember what we talked about early on? Recovery isn’t a fun process. People hate recovery, because it means taking apart those coping mechanisms that have been getting you through even though they’re damaging. But isn’t this better?”
“Yeah,” he said. His voice was rough. “Yeah. It’s a lot better.”
“Hey,” said Dan, about six months later, “Natalie, I need some advice.”
“Yeah?” She was distracted. Good. There were bobby pins in the corner of her mouth.
“My rent’s going up, and I’m thinking about moving. Somewhere a little more swanky, if I have to pay for it anyway. Any suggestions?”
She frowned at her computer. “I don’t know.”
“My building is great!” yelled Casey from their office. “My upstairs neighbor is the worst!”
“I don’t think we could survive that kind of proximity!” Dan shouted back at him.
“Don’t murder Casey, Danny,” Natalie murmured around her bobby pins. “Even if you move into his building.”
“I’m not going to move into his building.”
“Saves on the gas for the commute!”
“I’d have to deal with your unbelievably terrible taste in music for the commute!” Dan shouted back at Casey. “Seriously, Natalie, I need some ideas.”
She shrugged. “Casey’s building is great, isn’t it? Just because he’s a cheap bastard about the gas money—”
“Yeah, but I’m not kidding, I think the last time he could name an artist in the Top 40 was sometime in the mid-Seventies.”
“I’m not that old!” Casey called. “I’m very hip!”
“Natalie.” Dan spread his hands out in supplication. “Help me.”
“I’ll ask around.”
Three weeks later, when it turned out one of Casey’s neighbors was moving out, Natalie said, “I asked around and there isn’t shit to be had, it’s a crappy market, just do it. You probably won’t murder each other.”
They high-fived on the couch, the only piece of furniture in fully operational condition, the night after Dan moved into the building.
“We’re amazing actors,” said Dan.
“Subterfuge is our middle name. We picked the wrong careers.” Casey took a deep pull off his beer. “We should have been spies.”
“I hurt literally everywhere. Why didn’t you hire movers?”
“Because I’m young and hip. Hiring movers is for stuffy old rich people.”
“Don’t you hurt?”
“Oh, yeah. There is no place on my body that doesn’t ache.”
Casey smirked at him over his beer.
“Right, enjoy that, no one but you thinks you’re funny.”
“You think I’m funny,” said Casey, trying the eyebrow waggle he clearly thought of as seductive. Dan hadn’t had the heart to disabuse him of the notion yet.
“Much to my chagrin, I do. It has to be marked against my taste in general.”
“I think you taste just fine.” Casey set his beer down and started to slide a hand up Dan’s thigh.
Dan gave up and laughed. “You’re so corny.”
“The blinds are closed.”
“We carried a couch today. You can’t possibly have the energy—”
“Is that a dare?”
“Yeah, maybe it’s a dare—”
Casey tackled him to the couch. He saw it coming. When his back bounced off the cushions, he was still laughing.