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“Dan,” said Sally, leaning in across the table, “you’re a very handsome man.”

Dan grinned at her, just one side of his mouth; it didn’t make it to his eyes. “So I’ve been told.”

Anthony’s was full of noise. It was late—too late—and Dana and Casey were gone. Almost everyone was gone.

Sally toyed with the skewered lemon peel in her drink. “I think you should consider a proposition.”

“Oh, really? What kind? I hope it’s indecent. Wait, no, that’s a proposal.”

She leaned forward again, and he found himself leaning back, until her lips brushed his ear. “Come back to my place.”

 

And God help him, he did.

 

Sally was more than athletic; she was also sensual, in a way Dan hadn’t expected from her. She could be so oily and insincere that he’d expected her to be like that in bed, too. The kind of woman who would put on special high heels to give blowjobs, as if looking more like porn would de facto make the sex better.

She didn’t do anything like that. She did offer him a tequila sunrise, which he accepted, the glass cold and a little damp. She handed it to him in her kitchen as he leaned uncomfortably against the refrigerator. She made herself one, too, and walked back into her living room, kicking off her heels. He followed.

She sat with her legs crossed on the couch while she told him a story he’d never heard about a game from her heyday in college basketball, and then she finished the story by telling him about what she did to the assistant coach of the opposing team.

“—and then,” she said, stroking her thumb up the seam along the inside of Dan’s thigh, “he said, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever see a beaver again without thinking of you.’” She laughed. “Just my luck our mascot was a beaver!”

He had the sense she’d told the story before, probably used it as an opener like this before. It was too polished. But there was nothing hesitant or conflicted about the way she moved her hand up and cupped his cock through his pants, and he didn’t waste time trying to analyze it.

She didn’t have a coffee table, her living room floor wide open. The scrape of the carpet left his back tender. She slid down onto him smoothly and slowly, and then she leaned back above him, eyes closed in apparent satisfaction as she fingered herself in languid, fluttering movements. He watched her. He couldn’t tell if she was playing it up for her audience, or if she was as oblivious to his stare as she seemed.

She began to move on him. Riding him, punishingly hard and fast, driving down against him. It was good. Watching her pleasure herself, listening to her breathing change, as if his participation was entirely optional; as if she didn’t really care that he was there, except to be a body under hers, a cock for her to strip faster and faster.

She shuddered through an orgasm. It was a beautiful sight, her eyes squeezing tightly shut, her chest heaving with erratic breaths. She paused, and he reached up to rest his hands on her hips.

And then she looked him dead in the eye and smirked as she started to ride him again.

It turned out she was savage about that—about pushing him to his absolute limit, getting as many orgasms off of him as she could. And it felt like that, like her orgasms were something she took, rather than anything he gave her.

When he finally came, she was halfway through working herself up to her fourth. She made a broken, annoyed noise. As soon as he pulled out of her, he pushed at her, lifting and moving her, urging her up his body until she was kneeling over his face. She groaned in luxurious delight as he started to tongue and finger her at the same, almost brutal rhythm she’d been setting on his cock.

She came again. Shaking, eyes shut, a million miles away.

Good enough, thought Dan. He’d take it. The taste of latex lingered in his mouth.

 

She kicked him out, after.

“I know you need to be at work early,” she said. “I don’t want to wear you out.”

“Well, then you’re going about it all wrong, because that was some calisthenic routine there.” He snatched a quick kiss before she could pull away.

She gave him a half-smile. It looked wrong on her face. He’d never thought of Sally as that smart, really, probably because he was always comparing her to Dana—everyone was. It was easy to forget that Sally was smart, that she had to be, even to run a crappy show like West Coast Update.

“You don’t have to pretend you like me, Dan.”

He blinked at her. “What?”

She patted him on the elbow. “We’re good together in bed. That’s enough.”

He was standing in the hallway before he really registered that he should have denied it.

 

It turned into something regular. He didn’t think much about it except when they were doing it, the nights she’d call his cellphone and say something filthy into his ear and he’d try to keep a bland, calm face while he made excuses to slip away.

Dan had thought of himself as reasonably sexually adventurous. He was rapidly revising that opinion. Sally had a way of just doing something that he thought he ought to find more insulting, but she kept being right: she’d slap him, or scratch him, and he’d come like there’d been a post-hypnotic suggestion implanted, like a Manchurian Candidate situation. She went down on him and without warning deep-throated him like a champ, and he couldn’t not come, so deep in her that he could feel her lips against his balls.

She moved from playing with his balls while she blew him, which he thought he could be comfortable with, to her fingers drifting further and further back. And he kept thinking he should say something about it, indicate his discomfort. Because he wasn’t—he didn’t—except that she was blowing him while she did it, and it never seemed worth interrupting the blowjob over, and eventually he had to admit to himself that he liked it, and there was a certain frisson to the feeling that he shouldn’t like it.

Sally was a sexual genius, and he didn’t know why he was simultaneously surprised and a little bit outraged about it.

And then there was the small voice in the back of his head that persistently wondered whether she had been like this with Casey. Whether she’d gotten Casey all worked up and then slid a knuckle back to press behind his balls. Whether, eventually, she’d sat back on her haunches like some primal unholy succubus and stared Casey in the eye while sliding a finger to the first knuckle into his ass.

Dan didn’t like to admit that he thought about those things, because it was unworthy. He wasn’t fucking Sally just to prove that he could. He wasn’t doing it to show that he could have something Casey had had. That would be crazy. He was sleeping with Sally because they were both independent adults, and this was the kind of thing adults did in their spare time to have fun.

 Except that it was getting to be more of a challenge to deny that he came harder when he thought about Casey fucking her. He’d be balls-deep in her, doggy-style, pulling her hair with the light, steady grip that she liked when they were getting to the end of the night and it took a little something extra to make her come, and he’d think about whether Casey had fucked her like this, and he’d come so hard he’d white out for a second.

It was like living in his own pornography. Almost any night he wanted it, he could have it. Sex with Sally: like stepping into the columns of lies made up by lying readers, or by liars pretending they were readers, in Playboy or Hustler.

Of course it was going to go wrong somehow. He never doubted that. He tried not to think about how, or when.

 

It was one of those days. Casey spent the entire day being an ass, pushing Dan’s buttons, trying like hell to get under his skin.

And doing it all with a choirboy smile. Slightly raised eyebrows, supercilious and just stupid.

Dan stared at him, seething inside, knotted up worse than he could remember being in months.

There was Abby, of course, who would tell him all kinds of things he knew but couldn’t do anything with. That he needed to set boundaries. That his friendship with Casey had survived worse than this, Casey sitting on the edge of his desk, flicking his ear over and over and over again, trying to get his attention.

Abby was one answer. She wasn’t the answer he wanted.

Sally answered her door in no makeup, hair pulled back in a ponytail, sweatshirt from her college basketball team with a hole in the shoulder and a grease stain across one breast. Under it, he couldn’t tell whether she was wearing any underwear at all. Even in her stocking feet, she was a hair taller than he was.

She raised one eyebrow. “Dan?”

She sounded exactly like she did at work. It was too much. He kissed her, cupping her face in his hands, and for the first time he gave her everything. The works, the Dan Experience, the kind of tender, searching, dazzling kisses for which he’d gotten rave reviews, perfected under bleachers and in back seats and movie theaters.

And finally, finally, she gave a little ground. She gasped into his mouth. He felt a sweet, vicious triumph: he could make her care, he could—

Then he registered her hands on his upper arms, like a pair of vise grips. She pushed him back and he let the kiss break, resigned and furious.

She was staring at him. Her face was filled with something he couldn’t pin down, something that left her lips tight. “What did he do?”

“What?” he said, angry that she could guess, that he was so fucking transparent, and embarrassed, too.

“Casey.” She wasn’t letting go. Her eyes were searching his face. “You only try to get to me when you’re trying to get back at him.”

“Fuck you.” He yanked his arms out of her grip.

“You’re trying to.”

“Not if you’re—”

Don’t lie to me.” She didn’t raise her voice, but it came out cutting, like a diamond screeching against glass. “Give me a little credit, Dan, I spent months sleeping with him. I know what the two of you are like. Of course it’s a competition. Right? Who fucks Sally hardest, who fucks Sally best.” She laughed; it was brittle. “Why don’t you just fuck me at the same time, and we can see who wins?”

The thought had never occurred to him—not once—and he realized, with a bewildered rage, that he was instantly hard, pulse aching in his cock. His hand twitched toward it.

Her eyes tracked the movement. Of course they did. She smirked. It was unpleasant, predatory: there was the Sally that he knew and loathed.

“Why don’t you,” she murmured, and she waved benevolently at his dick. “Go ahead. Get it out. You know you want to.”

He knew it was a trap, somehow, but damn it, he’d gotten used to the sweet relief of her body whenever he wanted it. Every time he wanted it. Lithe and toned and voluptuously uninterested in him, never in the dark, always in the too-bright lights of her apartment, on the floor or the table or even the bed.

He unzipped his fly slowly, her eyes following the movement. He pulled his cock out through the fly in his boxers, and started to stroke.

“Yeah,” she murmured. Her voice was thick. “Yeah, let me see it. Let me see how bad you want it.”

And he did want it. He wanted it so badly. He wanted to bury himself in her pussy, pound her until even she had had enough, finally, until her insatiable appetite was slaked, until he could stop worrying about whether three or eleven or fifteen orgasms was enough.

He pumped his fist around his cock and groaned quietly. It wasn’t quite right, but it was better than nothing.

“Oh, Dan,” she said. “You can do better than that.”

“Yeah, if you’d—”

“No. That’s not what I mean.”

He frowned at her. He couldn’t figure out what she did mean.

“Pretend,” she said, softly, lovingly, sadistically. “Pretend he’s standing right behind me, about to fuck me.”

He gaped at her in shock. She lifted her arms and pulled her sweatshirt off, slowly pulled the tie out of her hair. She hadn’t been wearing underwear, after all.

“Pretend he’s watching you.” Her voice was silky. “Pretend he’s going to try to fuck me harder than you fuck me. Harder than you can fuck me. Remember, he fucked me first.”

He wanted to say something, anything. He wanted to tell her she was wrong. That it wasn’t like that. But she wasn’t, and it was, so instead he started stroking his cock, harder, faster, pointing it at her, at the invisible, imaginary presence behind her, and he could hear himself from a distance, gasping for air.

When she took pity on him and finally knocked him to the ground, straddling him and riding him until she came again and again, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was a struggle not to come, but he held on as long as he could, until finally he gave it up and came in the condom—in her—and felt the sickly sort of victory ebb away from him again.

When he was doing up his pants, having never made it past the foyer, she stood up. She was naked and towering, totally unashamed of her nudity in a way he couldn’t begin to fathom.

“You should, you know.”

“Should what?” he asked irritably, yanking at the sleeves of his jacket.

“Fuck me together.” She was watching him, a light in her eyes. “I’d pay money to see it. The two of you trying to out-fuck each other.”

He slammed out the door without replying.

 

He couldn’t stop thinking about it, though.

At work they were fine. They were better than fine. Dan and Casey, Casey and Dan. A comedy duo—Casey the inevitable straight man, Dan setting him up, letting Casey feed him lines. Casey would look at him and his eyes would twinkle, and they were dynamite. The fans loved it. Their ratings were the best they’d ever been.

On air they were fine. At work they were—they were okay. Dan didn’t watch Casey. He didn’t watch Casey move, talk, eat. He didn’t think about Casey’s hands on Sally’s thighs, which Dan knew well enough now to imagine, those familiar big hands smoothing over her skin.

Casey went on a date with a woman, a girl, really, early twenties, named Aislinn, who had a wild mane of dark hair and a wicked, glinting smile. Aislinn had been in the line at Starbucks behind him and had made a joke about the word venti that charmed Casey with its deft wordplay. Casey was always charmed by deft wordplay. Casey went on a date, took Aislinn to a trendy new restaurant where they served flavored air in gelatin bubbles. Dan went to Sally’s.

Sally leaned her head against the doorframe, smiling at him. For once she seemed unguarded. “It’s good to see you,” she said. “It’s been a while.”

He hadn’t gone back since she’d invoked Casey’s presence. Not between them, but behind them, beside them.

She smelled like vanilla. He said, “You look good.”

She seemed surprised and burst into bright laughter like glasses clinking together. “Dan, you don’t have to compliment me.”

“But it’s true,” he said. “You do look good. You look—” He gestured at her, encompassing her height, her curves. “You always look good.”

“Yeah.” Her voice was very soft. “Of course I do.”

They stood there for a moment longer, her head resting against the door frame, him watching her with his hands shoved into his pockets.

“You want to come in?” She sounded resigned. He wondered for the first time whether she was pretending with him, and if so, when.

“If you’re—” he said, uncertainly.

She stepped back, turning away, waving him in behind her. “Why not,” she said. “I deserve something nice once in a while.”

“Then I hate to break it you, sister, but you picked the wrong guy.” He was already pulling off his coat, dropping it on the floor.

“Oh, I know.” She laughed like he’d made a funny joke. “I know.”

This time she waited until he was on his knees, her legs draped over his shoulders, before she said, “Does he know you’re fucking me?”

He was caught off-guard in the middle of a stroke. “What?”

“Of course he doesn’t know,” she murmured. Her chest was heaving for air, after her third orgasm. He was determinedly driving her toward a fourth, his thumb circling on her clit, giving her the kind of long, slow strokes he knew she liked best when she was already tender.

“Uh.” He thrust again. “No.”

“No.” She bit her lip and arched, spasming around him. When she was finished, and he was hanging on by his fingernails trying not to come, she said in a shaking voice that was somehow anything but vulnerable, “Do you wish he did? Do you wish he knew you were here, fucking me like this?”

He thought about Casey knowing, knowing that Dan was here, deep inside Sally, feeling her writhe and twist, and he came as she gave a dark, rusty, blood-tinged laugh.

He went down on her after that until she came two more times, just to get even in some obscure, inscrutable way.

 

Casey said, “You’ve been going home early a lot lately.”

“Thanks, Mom,” said Dan without looking up from his computer. “What do you think Holland’s going to do about the point gap?”

“I mean, if you’re going home.”

Dan rolled his eyes. “You’ve got me. I’m hiding a secret, torrid love affair from you.”

“From me, I would believe. Not from Natalie.”

“There you go.”

“Danny,” said Casey, weirdly serious. Dan sighed and looked up. Casey’s face was caught in a rictus of fear-grief-love that was painful to look at. “Are you—are you depressed?”

Dan couldn’t help it; he laughed out loud. Casey was hurt, then relieved, in quick turns.

“Casey, Casey, Casey,” said Dan. “You think this is what I look like when I’m depressed? You think you can tell when I’m depressed?”

Casey didn’t seem comforted.

Danny,” said Casey again.

Dan shook his head, chuckling, and pushed away from the desk. “Depressed! That’s rich. Tell me another one.”

 

When he showed up at Sally’s that night, she was out. The door was closed. He stood there in the grip of some powerful yet impotent emotion for much too long.

 

He went to Abby the next morning. She found him sitting in the street in front of her office when it opened. She let him have an early session without giving him a lot of shit about it.

Am I depressed?”

She raised an eyebrow.

He leaned back heavily into the couch. “I didn’t think I was,” he said, almost to himself.

“Do you ever?”

“What?”

“Do you ever call what you’re feeling depression?”

“I don’t…” He frowned at the ceiling. “I can’t think when.”

“And yet, you’re a walking textbook example. Sleep disturbances, loss of interest, feelings of guilt, decreased energy, trouble concentrating—”

“I’m concentrating just fine—”

“And not denying the rest of it. Dan, do you want to die?”

“What?”

“Right now. Do you want to die?”

He was quiet for a long time. She knew the answer already, or at least she usually did; she asked him about it, not infrequently. “I wouldn’t mind being dead. It’s getting dead I have a problem with.”

“And you think that’s how life is supposed to be?”

“There is no ‘supposed to.’ There’s no benevolent deity watching over us, making sure everything is all right.”

“Because if there were, Sam wouldn’t be dead. Right?”

Right!” he shouted, full of anger beyond bearing.

“Isn’t it tearing you apart, to simultaneously want to be all right, to want to feel good and to feel all right about feeling good, and to be convinced that you cannot ever deserve that and that you must keep yourself miserable at all times?”

He turned his face into the couch cushion. “You’re such a—”

“Careful.”

“—shrink. You have to make—you make everything about something else. It’s not, I’m not depressed about Sam.”

“That’s a bold claim from someone who’s either brought up Sam or studiously avoided mentioning him in every session we’ve ever had.”

He buried his face and flipped her off.

“Do you think what you’re doing is healthy?”

“It’s fine.”

“Lying to your best friend about sleeping with the woman he also slept with.”

“Yeah.”

“Is fine.”

“Sure.”

“How would Casey feel if he knew?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, I have more faith in you than that, Dan. Tell me what Casey would feel.”

Dan shook his head. He couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“Hurt? Betrayed?”

“No. He didn’t—he and Sally weren’t like that.”

“From your own descriptions, this isn’t a liaison that’s bringing you joy. So what does it bring you? What need does it fulfill?”

“Sex! It’s sex, Abby, sometimes grown-ups do that, sometimes they just fuck and it doesn’t have to be about anything else!”

“Maybe,” she said. Her voice was even. She was watching him, totally unafraid. He hid his face again. It made him desperate with a sick anger, how she was never afraid when he was fucking terrified. “But you? Like this? I think the odds are good that it is.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I think I’ve gotten to know you pretty well.” She tapped the desk with her pencil eraser. “And you are in an incredible amount of pain right now. Pain that you’re denying yourself the right to feel. Pain born out of the stymied desire to be close to another human being.”

He concentrated on his shallow breathing against the cross-stitch of the throw pillow.

“Have you tried having a conversation with Sally?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“She’s—it’s not like that. We’re not the same kind of people.”

“What kind of people are you?”

“I’m—I mean, she’s jealous of the show. Of Dana.”

“And jealousy is bad, right?”

“Isn’t it?”

“You were pretty jealous of Casey not that long ago.”

“That’s over with.”

“Is it?”

He squeezed his eyes shut. “We’re done with that. We’re fine now.”

“But you and Sally aren’t the same kind of people.”

“No.”

“Because you’re a successful professional who isn’t jealous of anyone and she’s not.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“So if one of you is a monster,” said Abby, “which one of you is it? Sally, for being an ambitious and obvious woman? Or you?”

“Hey!”

“Dan, you divide the world into monster and not-monster. And somehow you always put yourself firmly on one side of those scales. You and I both know which side.”

He punched the pillow. She wasn’t impressed.

“I’m not here to talk you out of that.” Abby’s lips were thin. “I’m here to help you understand why you do that, and how little it serves you.”

 

That night he called Sally.

“Hello?” she said. Her voice was different on the phone.

It made it easier to say, “Hey, how’s it going?”

She laughed in surprise. “Dan?”

“I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”

“If you wanted to come over—”

“Nah, nah, just to talk.”

There was a long moment’s silence, and he wondered what the hell he thought he was doing. But then she said, voice tentative for the first time, “Work was kind of a pain.”

“Your anchors acting up again?”

“God, you know it.”

They managed not to talk about sex, for a full six minutes, until he said goodbye and had to go throw up.

 

Casey said, “Do you think we can get Graphics to make us a picture of Dorfman’s head flying off? Like an explosion?”

Dan said, “How mad would you be if I had been having a torrid secret affair?”

Casey slowly spun around in his chair and stared at Dan.

The silence stretched and stretched.

“What,” said Casey.

Dan shrugged convulsively, an itch under his skin, behind his eyeballs. “I’m just saying. If.”

“What kind of torrid affair would you feel the need to keep secret from me?” Casey’s chair creaked as he leaned forward. “Who are you—it’s not Dana, is it?”

Dan laughed explosively. “God, no!”

Casey frowned. “Good. I—okay, I don’t understand.”

“Never mind.” Dan turned back to his laptop. The couch was comfortable where he’d stretched out on it. “It’s not a big deal.”

“I think a secret love affair counts as a pretty big deal, by default.”

“Not if it’s torrid. And petty.”

“It’s petty now?”

“Definitely petty.”

“Dan,” said Casey, already halfway through a sentence in his brain, and then Dan could hear the gears grind as Casey was thrown into another track. “Wait.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Not Pixley?”

“How would I even meet Pixley?”

Sally?” asked Casey incredulously.

Dan pretended to type.

“Not—you don’t even like her, why would you—and why would you…”

He could hear Casey’s brain exploding. It was almost worth it.

“You don’t even like her,” Casey repeated. He was so quiet Dan could hardly hear him.

Dan shrugged. “She’s not so bad.”

“She’s—I mean, I know that.”

“Do you?”

“What?”

“You didn’t act like you knew it.”

“What—and you—”

“You acted like you were ashamed of her.”

Casey mimed his head exploding. “And what, pray tell, is it that you’ve been doing? Parading her around? Taking her to the Ritz? Did I miss the engagement announcement in the Times? Fuck you, Danny! You and the high horse you rode in on!”

“I’m not saying that.”

“Then what are you saying?”

Dan stared at him for a minute, trying to figure out whether he had anything for a response to that. Then he said, “I’m saying she could do a lot better than either of us.”

Casey got up and left their office.

 

Dan called Sally that night.

“Hi,” she said, sounding distracted. “Did you want to come over?”

“Yeah. Are you busy?”

“No, no. Come on by. Just—give me half an hour.”

When he got there, she was wearing makeup. She didn’t normally bother with it for him. Sometimes he ruined her mascara or her lipstick; she never seemed to care.

“I got a hell of a phone call tonight.” She dropped to her couch and patted the cushion next to her. He went to sit.

“Yeah?”

“Casey.”

Dan wheezed out a breath like she’d hit him. It hadn’t occurred to him that Casey would call her. Good God. What if he—had he—

“He wasn’t making a lot of sense. He wanted to know if we were sleeping together.”

“I told him about us.”

“Dan,” said Sally slowly, staring at him as she raised her eyebrows, “is there an us? Because I don’t remember signing on for that. I remember telling you we were having sex. Good sex, that was fun, that I’d like to keep having, but I don’t need this to be a relationship. And God knows I don’t need either your judgment or your pity about that.”

“I—” He shrugged. “I just meant that we were sleeping together.”

“Because he gave me some kind of weird speech about how if I respected him I wouldn’t desecrate your relationship with him by doing sexual things to you.” She frowned. “Then I think he went into something from Shakespeare?”

Dan sighed. “Sounds like him.”

“Dan, whatever you have going on with Casey, deal with it. Without me.” She pointed at the door. “This is too much. I didn’t sign up to be the lightning rod for all your drama.”

“Didn’t you, though?”

“What?”

“Didn’t you want drama? Why the hell else would you make a move on me?”

“Because you’re handsome and I was bored and I like sex. I like it a lot. I like sex whether or not I like the person I’m having it with. Sex is a hobby, and it’s one I’m damn good at.”

“I know that!” He flung up his hands. “I’ve experienced your talent! I think at this point I’ve experienced the full range of your talent.”

He realized, with a distant irritation, that the corner of her lip was twitching.

“Oh, what is it? Are you crying? Fuck.”

“No.” She started to chuckle. It was a low, rich sound that went right to his cock. “I’m just—it’s kind of funny that you’d say that, because I have at least one more talent you haven’t experienced.”

He blinked at her, sidetracked. Maybe involuntarily charmed. “What?”

 

He should have known better; he should have known it would be something like this. But he’d asked, and she was showing him, and now she was showing him, because as much as he wanted to fuck her, he also wanted to try new things. Try everything.

And as she eased the strap-on into his ass, his grip went white-knuckled around the metal frame of her headboard. He was breathing loudly, scared and turned on at the same time.

She paused, running her hand over his side, gentling him like a scared horse. He distantly resented it, but at the same time, it was so much. It felt like she’d shoved a telephone book up his ass.

“Hey,” she said softly. “I’m holding still, okay? You let me know when I can move.”

He sucked in a deep breath between his teeth and nodded. She began to move again, fractionally, so slowly.

When she finally stopped moving, he felt like he might be dying, but then she started again. Tiny thrusts. He made a desperate, howling noise that startled him, and after about thirty seconds he came all over himself without ever being touched.

Sally hummed in pleasure and then made him fuck her with the other end of the strap-on, the one that was supposed to go in her while she fucked him, while he tongued her.

When he got home he took a long, hot shower. He couldn’t—he didn’t regret it. He knew it was something he wasn’t supposed to want or have, only now that he’d had it, he had a feeling he’d be back for more.

 

“I’m going to keep seeing her,” he told the back of Casey’s neck the next day. Casey had been staring fixedly at a mostly-blank sheet of paper ever since Dan walked in.

“Fine.” Casey sounded pissed.

“It’s not serious. We just—we’re adults. We’re having a good time.”

“You don’t have to justify yourself to me.”

“I know.” Dan shrugged. “Sometimes I want to. Sometimes I feel like I should.”

“Yeah, well, you can take your feelings and go talk to Abby.”

“I do.”

Casey didn’t have even a lame comeback for that one.

 

It turned out Sally really liked fucking him, and he really liked getting fucked. When she fucked him he couldn’t think about anything else. The intensity of the sensation drove every other thought out of his head, and he found himself increasingly willing to do everything short of beg for it.

She seemed brighter, happier, this way. He couldn’t help but wonder whether this was because she liked the power—not that she hadn’t had plenty of power before—or whether she was just a natural with that thing.

One day she was deep inside him, jerking him off in torturously slow movements, and she said conversationally, “Do you wonder whether I ever did this to Casey?”

He closed his eyes and gave it up without a sound.

She didn’t tell him whether she had.

 

But after that he couldn’t stop wondering. It had been bad before; it was a thousand times worse, picturing Casey on his knees, getting reamed by Sally. Sally always looked pleased, indefinably smug, when she was wearing the strap-on. How many did she own? Would it have been the same one?

And then he realized, with the image stubbornly refusing to leave his mind despite absolutely blasting the radio on the way into work, that it wasn’t some sick thing where he was competing with Casey. The images hit him in a quick and damning succession: what if it was him behind Casey, what if Casey was behind him, what if it was Casey’s arms trembling next to his with the strain, what if, what if, what if, and he almost rear-ended the car in front of him while the radio blared She came back he’s on the roof again she flipped he flipped the bird and then he went to the roof where his threats ring loud and clear gonna jump gonna jump gonna die this year

 

“Casey,” said Dan, licking his lips. They were so dry.

Casey looked up. “Yeah?”

“Never mind.”

Casey cocked a suspicious eyebrow at him and then went back to working on a rough sketch to show Graphics.

Dan shut his eyes.

 

He told Abby. Or he told her some parts, in small pieces. It was like putting together a puzzle: a bit of grass here, a glimpse of sky there.

“Dan,” said Abby, “what do you think is driving this?”

“What do you mean?”

“This epiphany.”

“It’s not an epiphany.”

“Then what is it?” She raised her eyebrows.

“A pain in the—” He stopped and sighed heavily.

“You realize you’re allowed to enjoy anal penetration, right?”

“I better be, given how frequently I am.”

“Have you been questioning your masculinity because of what you’re discovering you enjoy sexually?”

He tipped his head back. “No. Mostly.”

“But you’ve realized you’re attracted to Casey.”

“Yeah.”

“Is that new?”

“I don’t think so.” He palmed his face and startled himself by discovering that his hand was wet. His face was wet. He’d started crying at some point without noticing.

Abby didn’t say anything.

“I think it’s been like this for a long time.” He wiped away some of the tears. His face was too hot. “I think I—maybe I knew. Maybe I didn’t want to know. So I told myself I didn’t.”

She made a soft, assenting noise.

“Because if I—” He barked out a laugh. It was harsh and braying and terrible. There were more tears, his vision blurry with them. “If I want to fuck him then—you don’t—we’re too close for that, do you get it? It can’t just be fucking, and if it can’t just be fucking I can’t—”

“Breathe,” said Abby quietly.

He realized he was hyperventilating. He struggled to get a handle on it, count out the breaths. Finally he said, “I can’t live like this.”

“Like what?”

“If I—if this is—then I can’t keep walking into work and sitting there like it’s nothing, like it doesn’t exist.”

“So what can you do?”

“I don’t know!” He realized he was shouting and lowered his voice. “I don’t know.”

“Dan,” said Abby.

“I have to go.” He got up from the couch blindly.

“What are you running from?” asked Abby behind him. “You don’t have to stay, but you should at least think that over. Because the more you avoid the things that hurt you, the more they can hurt you.”

He left.

 

He called in sick to work. Then he unplugged his phone and turned off his cell.

 

When he thought Sally would be home that night, he went to her place.

She opened the door after the first knock. She looked surprised. “I heard you were sick.”

He shook his head. “Needed a day.”

“And now you’re back?”

“Back in the game.”

She had just finished tying one of his wrists to the headboard when they heard her buzzer. She sighed. “I keep getting buzzed when my neighbor gets a pizza. I’ll be right back.”

It was mundane and ridiculous. He felt silly, hanging out on her bed with one wrist tied up, and it seemed like it was taking a really long time for her to get the door.

And then he heard the sound of voices: a deeper male voice overlying Sally’s. His heart rate spiked before he consciously registered why, and a second later it came to him, just as the sound of their voices got clearer.

“—can’t,” said Casey, low and desperate.

“I’ll ask him,” said Sally. “He’ll want to.”

“You don’t understand.” It sounded like Casey was begging her.

“It’s my fantasy. He knows that.”

“Sally…”

“Wait here.”

Sally slipped into the bedroom and pushed the door closed behind her, leaning against it. Her eyes were glittering. “Dan.”

“No,” he said immediately.

“Think about it,” she whispered. She was breathing fast, and she started to rub herself through the thin fabric of her dress. “The two of you. Fucking me together. You can finally see what you missed out on.”

He gritted his teeth, yanking at the wrist tie. “Let me out—I have to go—”

“Think about it, Dan.” Her voice got commanding. “Think about it. And if you want me to tell him to leave, I will. For old time’s sake.”

Dan looked up at her. He felt hunted, trapped, wild.

“Tell me you don’t want to look him in the eye while you both fuck me.”

He couldn’t speak.

She leaned forward and whispered, “I did fuck him, Dan. I fucked him and he took it like a champ. He’s almost as good at it as you are.”

And that was it; that was the shibboleth, that was what broke him. He stopped struggling and let his wrist fall against the cool metal.

“Okay,” he said.

 

Casey followed her back into the room. He was peeling off his shirt, face stark white. Dan hadn’t seen him like that in a long time, like he was so nervous he could throw up. Dan had pulled the sheet up over his waist, a last-ditch effort at misguided modesty.

Sally said, “I’m not going to make you talk.”

Casey immediately looked relieved. Dan wondered if he did, too. Casey started in on his pants, unbuttoning his fly. He tugged them down over his hips and off. Sally was watching Dan watching Casey, shrugging out of her dress almost as an afterthought.

Casey turned to Sally convulsively, not meeting Dan’s eyes. Sally grinned at Casey and yanked his boxers off in one swift movement, leaving them puddled around his feet. He rolled his eyes and kicked them off. It gave Dan a briefly unobstructed view, and he thought, fuck, fuck, shit, fuck, because he didn’t want to want to look. But he wanted to, and he did, because if this was it, if this was his chance to be in bed with Casey, naked and hard, he was going to take it.

He’d seen Casey naked before, a handful of times. Casey tended to be shy about changing in shared spaces. Chalk it up to Midwestern repression. But this was different, because this time Casey was already half-hard despite looking like a man walking the plank, instead of a man kissing a statuesque and beautiful woman.

She whispered something in Casey’s ear and he flinched. Then she turned and got into bed with Dan—yanking the covers away from him, undoing the tie on his wrist. He lowered that arm, flexing his fingers. Casey climbed into the bed on her other side hastily.

There was some comfort, there, in her body between them. It blocked some of the view. But it also put them closer together.

Sally said, as casually as if they were talking about ordering lunch, “Dan’s better at anal. Sorry, Casey, but he gets to fuck my ass. You get to fuck my pussy, though, so it’s not all bad.”

Casey flinched once, violently. Dan couldn’t muster anything resembling a joke or a boast about it.

She had lube—the good kind, slick and drippy even after Dan had fisted a hand around his cock and pumped slowly into it for a while to get his erection back. And then he eased into her, carefully, because lying on his side with her lying on her side was an awkward angle, and he had to help hold her leg up to get all the way into her.

“Okay,” she said. She was breathless. “Your turn, Casey.”

And Casey, who had been watching them with a stunned expression and a hard, leaking cock, scooted gingerly forward and put his hand up to help hold her leg as well, and then rocked down into her at a little bit of an angle.

She moaned, loud and deep. Dan was breathing fast, trying not to come too soon. But it was almost too much, to be in her, to feel it as Casey moved in her, too.

They found their way to a relatively comfortable position, each of them shifting slightly, inching slowly, in a torture of pleasure, biting their lips and sighing and grunting. Until Sally was lying there with her face tucked in the crook of Casey’s neck, and Casey had his eyes shut, which was all wrong but at least let Dan look at him.

She said, “You can—you can get started,” in a wavering voice.

So they did. Dan moved first, small, tentative thrusts, and Casey made a shocked noise and started to move too. They had to be careful, so careful, not to hurt her, stretched like that, around each of them in turn, but after a while she started to make an ululating low noise that gradually escalated in volume. They were all sticky with sweat by then, trembling with the strain of not coming, Sally’s hair plastered to her face in tendrils.

Then she whispered something in Casey’s ear. Casey moaned loudly.

“What—” said Dan. “I—” He had no idea what he meant to say.

“I said,” Sally gasped, “I said, ‘he’s right there, touch him.’”

It took a long minute for that to sink in. Dan glanced down; Casey’s hand was shaking like a leaf, hesitating above Dan’s thigh.

Dan looked quickly back up at Casey. Casey was staring at him with a kind of glassy-eyed terror that was intimately familiar.

Dan nodded, a quick, sharp jerk, and Casey’s hand landed on his thigh and squeezed, fingers digging in. Casey let out a staccato breath and then he was really doing it, grabbing Dan, grabbing Dan’s ass, kneading it, sliding his hand over Dan’s back, hip, leg, touching him everywhere Casey could reach. Like he—like he wanted

“You feel that?” Sally murmured, loud enough for both of them to hear, Dan couldn’t be sure which of them she was talking to. “You feel him in me? You feel him right up against you? Your cocks, and the only thing between them is me?

Casey shuddered and choked off a cry and came in her. Dan could feel it, like the shockwave from a bomb. And then Sally’s chest was heaving as she came, too, and last of all Dan—finally winning, winning at last, coming inside her as Casey made a broken noise and buried his face in Sally’s shoulder, keening.

Sally, for once, didn’t seem to have anything else to say. Didn’t seem to be already panting after another orgasm. She was lying still, face half-mashed into the pillow, mouth open, breathing like she’d just run a marathon.

Dan didn’t want to pull out. As his dick softened he knew he would have to—he’d slip out, he needed to grab the condom—but God, he wanted to live there forever, inside her, Casey touching him, the smell of sex everywhere in the air and something huge and fragile in his chest.

The moment started to break. His cock got too soft and he had to grab for the base of it, pinching off the condom, keeping it from spilling as he pulled out. He managed to chuck it into the trash behind him without quite looking. A few heartbeats later Casey shuddered and gasped as he, too, had to grab for the condom, his hand coming up off Dan’s hip.

Dan felt it like a blow. He flinched. Casey’s eyes flickered up to his, over Sally’s shoulder, and Dan couldn’t help but read what he badly wanted to see: what if, that could be, maybe Casey, too—

“Of course he’s in love with you,” Sally to the air between them, and she heaved herself to sit up. “I’m taking a shower. If you need to piss, come in.”

She wobbled to the bathroom on unsteady feet, hand against the wall to guide herself. She looked radiantly content, hair a bird’s nest halo around her head.

Dan had been watching her to avoid having to look at Casey. But once the door clicked shut and the shower came on, he had no choice, not really.

So he glanced over. The lights were all still on, blazing, pitiless.

Casey was watching him. His eyes were huge.

“I don’t want to want you,” said Dan. His voice filled the room, and he flinched at it.

“You think I wanted this?” Casey’s voice was like gravel, like broken glass. “I was—damn it, Danny, I was normal, I was fine. And then, you—” and his voice cut off as if a guillotine had come down mid-sentence.

“How did she know?” Dan hissed, and felt guilty for it. Sally wasn’t the enemy. Even if she felt like it. She was an innocent bystander, someone they’d suckered in to their self-destructive mutual orbit. She was right about Dan, about them, she’d been right the whole time.

Casey bit his lip. It was distracting; Dan tried to focus on the burning rage in his chest, a lump of it behind his breastbone.

“She—I don’t know,” said Casey. “After the divorce. When we were. She just—she started saying things. And I—”

“Me, too.”

“It wasn’t—I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.”

“I thought it was…” Dan trailed off. “Competing with you, maybe.”

“It wasn’t?”

“Sometimes it wasn’t.”

“You wanted—” Casey hesitated.

Dan said harshly, “To be where you’d been, the way I always have. Fuck! I can’t even—I can’t get away from you even when I fuck!

Casey sucked in a breath between his teeth and for a second Dan thought he’d gone too far, that was it, they’d go back to pretending. And he’d have to start looking for another job, anywhere, somewhere far away from Manhattan—

“She’s right,” said Casey. “I’m in, I’m in love with you.”

“I’m obsessed with you, it can’t be healthy—”

“Danny.” Casey closed his eyes, and his hand crept onto Dan’s hip again, like it belonged there. “Please.”

Dan stopped talking.

“I’m in love with you.” Casey said the words carefully, enunciating clearly. Gangling Scarecrow, still and always braver than Dan, the charming and cowardly lion. “If you aren’t—if you don’t—”

“Of course I do, you moron,” said Dan, and leaned across to kiss Casey.

Casey grabbed Dan, one hand coming up to cup his jaw, the other arm wrapping around his back to drag him in. Which meant getting dragged into the wet spot, but he found he couldn’t complain too much about that, because Casey was kissing him, was kissing him like it was all he’d ever wanted to do. Casey kissed like he was drowning and he was taking Dan with him.

And Dan’s mind was full of a thousand voices like the hum of a beehive, men he’d known sneering at this, pussy and queer and f—cut off by his violent reaction, and he’d spent his life trying to outrun whispers like that. But this was worth it, worth all of it. Casey’s stuttering breaths, his eyes shut as Dan traced a hand over the familiar contours of his face.

They paused to breathe, in tandem, and Dan heard himself saying, “If you didn’t—I couldn’t—”

And Casey said back, “I know. I know,” and the hell of it was that he did know, better than anyone. Because he was Casey, because Casey knew Dan better than anyone else ever had.

“We can’t—”

“Don’t—” said Casey in a rush, interrupting him.

“—tell anyone—”

“Oh—”

“but I have to, I need—”

“Me too.”

Casey kissed him again.

The shower shut off, leaving them marooned in the sudden silence. They stared at each other.

“She knows,” said Casey, unnecessarily.

“Yeah.”

“It’s—I think it’s okay.”

“Look, she wasn’t going to tell about Gordon—”

“Do you have to say his name—”

“Don’t even pretend you’re still thinking about—”

“I love you,” said Casey again. Dan stopped instantly. Every time he heard it, his brain refused to encompass its enormity, its simplicity. “I love you so much it’s eating me alive, I couldn’t—once I realized I couldn’t function—I was so angry, I don’t even know why. Do you have any idea, I look at you and it’s like—”

“Like you can’t think about anything else,” Dan said fast and low. “Like you can’t imagine what you’d do—”

Casey was nodding. “And then trying to think about, talk about—”

“And it’s—”

“I need to kiss you—”

“So what are you waiting for, do it—” Dan got out before Casey was kissing him again, rolling half-onto him. Dan moaned into his mouth and wrapped his arms around Casey’s back, squeezing, crushing the breath out of them both.

“Oh, my,” said Sally, voice heavy with irony.

They looked up at her together. Dan could only imagine what their faces looked like.

She waved away the unspoken concern. “I wouldn’t tell. For one thing, who’d believe me?”

Dan and Casey glanced at each other. Everyone, they thought, and Dan could see it in Casey’s eyes.

“And for another thing,” she said, dropping onto the bed, elbow-crawling up between them so they let go reluctantly to accommodate her, “you really think I’d flush my perfectly good industry contacts down the toilet to have a tabloid story?”

Casey met her eyes and then his gaze came up over her shoulder to meet Dan’s.

“I wouldn’t.” Sally rolled her eyes, half-turning back to look at Dan. “You should go soon, though.”

“Uh, what?”

“You and Casey,” she said, slowly, as if he was an idiot. “You should go.

“Sally,” said Dan. “You’re, you have to know you’re—”

“What, a hot fuck? The best lay you’ve ever had?”

“Yes.”

“Well, thank you for the vote of confidence, but I knew that already. I knew that,” she lowered her voice, leaning in to drop a kiss on his jaw, “when I fucked you with my strap-on and you lost your mind.”

“It’s not my fault you’re so good with a cock,” Dan breathed against her lips.

She laughed, maybe surprised. “I want that on a plaque of some kind.”

“I’ll have it engraved.”

And Casey’s hand, which had moved back over Sally’s body onto Dan’s hip, tightened again, like he was jealous.

Dan said, incredulous, “You can’t tell me she isn’t insanely good.”

“Well, no,” said Casey. “She certainly is.”

“I’m betting she expanded your world by a significant degree.”

“Of course she did!” Casey gestured between them. “You think Lisa ever fucked me like that?”

“I don’t think anyone ever fucked you like that,” said Dan.

Sally smacked him lightly on the side of the head. “And that’s why you have to leave,” she said, not unkindly. “You can go have your arguments over who fucked who best in someone else’s bed.”

Dan kissed her ear. “Sally—”

“That’s my name. Don’t wear it out.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?” She laughed. “Fucking me so hard I forgot my name? That’s fine. Now just go.”

“Give me a couple minutes,” said Dan. “I want to appreciate this. I have a feeling it’s not going to happen again.”

“Why would it?” She shook her head. “This is getting too complicated for my tastes. Any idiot could see that. And now you know it, too.”

“You’re suggesting we’re behind the times relative to idiots?” said Casey wryly.

“Obviously.”

“She’s not wrong,” murmured Dan.

“Of course she’s not.”

“You’re getting repetitive.”

“You knew I was derivative.”

“Since the beginning.” Dan had been lazily stroking Sally’s side, but he reached across her to touch Casey’s waist.

“That’s it,” said Sally. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

“I have to piss,” said Casey, untangling himself.

When he was in the bathroom, Dan said to Sally, quietly, seriously, “I am sorry.”

“For what?” She shrugged. He was still facing her back.

“For underestimating you.”

She was quiet and still for a moment.

“You’re—you’re more than we admitted.” Dan kissed the back of her neck. “I’m always going to know, now. How much more you are.”

“You can’t sweet-talk me into staying tonight.”

“I’m not trying. For one thing, we destroyed your bed.”

She laughed. “You ain’t whistling Dixie.”

Would we? Don’t answer that.”

“I’m…” She sighed, and she wrapped a hand over his. “I’m happy for you, for whatever that’s worth.”

“It’s worth a lot.”

“You’re still morons.”

“Obviously.”

“And I don’t think Casey’s going to let you keep fucking me.”

Dan darted a glance at the bathroom door. “Probably not.”

She sighed wistfully. “It’s a shame. You’re a lot of fun.”

He kissed the top of her shoulder blade. “We could hang out.”

She burst out laughing. “And do what?

“I don’t know, shoot hoops?”

“Shoot hoops?

“Don’t you still do that?”

“Well, yeah, but—”

Casey finally emerged from the bathroom. Sally leaned over the side of the bed and picked up his shirt to throw it right at him; it hit him in the face and flopped over his head, draping artistically across one eye.

He raised his visible eyebrow at her, and she and Dan cracked up. After a second Casey started laughing, too, big belly-laughs.

Dan kissed her one more time before he stood up, slowly. He knew Casey had watched him kiss Sally. He had a feeling Casey would take that out of his hide later, and he was thrilled to the point of nausea at the prospect. He wanted it, he was afraid of it, he couldn’t stand one more night of not having it. As he got dressed, his hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

They left together. It was clear that they would. In the parking garage next to Sally’s they hesitated between their rows and Casey said, “Please—” and Dan couldn’t stand it, had to push him back into the shadows and kiss him again. And Casey moaned and grabbed Dan’s jacket, mauling the leather, pulling him up against Casey’s body. Touching him was electric; he’d always been magnetic, but now it was more, now that Dan could let it be more, and he had both his hands up under Casey’s t-shirt, sliding around his back, while Casey’s mouth was warm and open against his.

“My place?” said Dan, so quietly it was almost inaudible. “Your place? The Four Seasons?”

Casey shook with silent laughter. “Yeah, Danny, I definitely think we should go to a hotel together and be seen by as many people as humanly possible.” He kissed Dan’s ear, as if to apologize. “Your place?”

“Sure.”

Casey didn’t have to specify that they’d take their own cars. He’d need to leave. He wouldn’t be able to—Dan felt dizzy thinking about it, after he’d gotten into his car and stared at the steering wheel like he’d never seen it before. The chill of the seat was permeating his clothes.

He started the car in a daze, easing it out from the narrow spaces, and drove to his apartment building.

 

When he got in, Casey wasn’t there. Dan was still sticky and sweaty under his clothes. He started to strip out of them—t-shirt, jeans—but hesitated, hands at the waistband of his boxers. Casey could be there at any minute—

Or he might not. He might not come—

Dan went to the fridge; sitting on top, a little dusty, was a bottle of tequila. He picked it up, hefted it in one hand. Set it back down.

There was a knock on the door, quiet as a cat.

He opened it, and Casey was standing there. His coat was draped over one arm, his dress shirt wrapped in it. Casey’s eyes flickered up and down Dan’s body, bare chest and legs in the low light of the dining nook chandelier, and Casey looked pole-axed.

“Come on,” said Dan, standing back from the door. Casey nodded dumbly. And a foot inside Dan’s door, he dropped everything he was carrying and pulled Dan in for a fierce, hungry kiss, and answered the question Dan had been trying to decide on, staring at the glinting light off the tequila bottle.

 

Casey and Dan, without Sally, were different. Of course they were. They would have to be. Chemistry worked like that, Dan was pretty sure, from what he remembered in the dim recesses of his mind where his freshman year lingered; if you yanked an atom off a molecule, the bonds changed.

And this was like taking away an atom where there had been a single bond, maybe, and a double bond, and ending up with a triple bond instead. Two people glued together so tightly he didn’t know how he’d ever kept any kind of distance.

Casey, without the buffer of Sally’s body between them, couldn’t stop touching Dan. His hands barely left Dan’s skin. Even when Casey was struggling to pull off his shirt, he kept getting distracted and going back, kissing Dan’s shoulder, collarbone, mouthing his neck. Dan couldn’t breathe but he didn’t want to. He didn’t miss it. His throat was tight, strained.

He was breathing in deeply, smelling Casey’s hair. Still damp with sweat at the temples, and how many times over the years had he watched Casey without admitting that it wasn’t the dispassionate gaze of someone assessing on-air talent? It seemed inconceivable in retrospect, now that the history of the world could be divided. It wasn’t the first time he had drawn a line like that: before and after Sam’s death. Before and after meeting Casey.

“Remember,” he said, before he could stop himself. He didn’t want to talk. But the words spilled out anyway, lost in Casey’s hair: “when we drove to Florida.”

From—they’d been in Dallas, then. It had been an ill-advised drive. Unnecessary. But they’d done it. When Casey drove Dan would prop his feet up on the dash, or stick them out the window, and sitting on that sticky hot seat in the sizzling sun, laughing under the rapidly flickering shadows of the trees, was the happiest Dan thought he had ever been in his life up until that point. No Lisa; no guilt, no shame, no fear. No watching over his shoulder for someone to judge what he said. Just Casey, who thought everything that he said was worth listening to. Just Casey, who looked at him with a open, blinding smile that made him think maybe he was worth listening to.

“Yeah.” Casey had managed to get his t-shirt almost entirely off, dangling from his wrist, brushing against Dan’s thigh. Casey kissed him on the mouth. “We had fun.”

“It was a million degrees.”

“It was summer in the South, Danny, we were lucky the air wasn’t soup.”

“I think I was in love with you,” said Dan. “I think—I think if I wasn’t before, I was then.”

Casey drew in a brief, soft breath, lips almost touching Dan’s.

“I didn’t know,” Dan added. He couldn’t make himself say it any louder than a whisper. “Didn’t know why I had to be close to you. But that was the best ride of my life.”

Casey paused and opened his mouth. Dan was waiting, heart hammering his chest, for something profound. Instead Casey said, “I thought I was the best ride of your life,” and Dan cracked up before he fully understood why.

He was still laughing when Casey wrapped his hand around Dan’s cock and squeezed, and the laugh got sucked into his lungs on a gasp.

Casey shucked the t-shirt off his arm as they stumbled back into the bedroom. There wasn’t the same desperate quality as there had been in the parking lot, or the hesitant determination at Sally’s. This time they knew it was inevitable; they’d been orbiting each other too long not to know, falling into it.

Dan sat on the edge of the bed, not sure what to do or where to go, but Casey didn’t share his confusion. Casey knelt carefully in front of him—Casey’s right knee had always been a little tricky, ever since the torn ACL that ended his gymnastics bid in his senior year of high school—and he could feel the heat of Casey’s breath on him, the pressure of Casey’s fingers against his thighs as he lowered his head to Dan’s cock.

There was a pause, long enough that Dan thought that maybe he should say something, and as he opened his mouth Casey opened his.

Dan gasped, hands going to Casey’s shoulders. He wasn’t going to—he’d hold still—but it was so much it was hard to hold still for it, almost impossible, as Casey took him in his mouth and then let him slide out again, tentative.

“Did she make you suck it?” Dan asked, thinking about how Sally had sometimes enjoyed having Dan on his knees, her strap-on in his mouth.

Casey drew back and said, “yes,” quiet and hushed.

“It’s different?” Dan didn’t know. “With a real one?”

Casey nodded. His cheeks were bright red, like someone had painted a stripe across his cheekbones.

“Easier or harder?”

Casey struggled with a smirk. Dan rolled his eyes. “Different. You—I can—” Casey licked his lips. “You taste different,” he said, voice low. “You get—harder or softer.”

“Oh.” Dan’s brain was shorting out. “I want to—can I do it to you? After? Suck you?”

Casey groaned and slid his mouth over Dan’s cock again. He turned his head, and Dan could see the outline of his cock in Casey’s cheek; he touched it, wonderingly. Women had done this for him, hundreds of times, probably, but this was different, still. His nerves were all on fire.

Casey’s grip on Dan’s thighs tightened as Dan traced his fingers around Casey’s mouth, and Casey grunted. Dan only had a few seconds to savor the sudden impending awareness of his orgasm before it was on him, before he was coming much too hard for someone who’d already gotten one spectacular orgasm that evening.

With a startled sound, Casey swallowed and then pulled back, and Dan flopped back on the bed, feeling boneless.

“Oh my God,” said Dan, dazed, half-drunk on the feeling.

“So, uh.” Casey levered himself up onto the bed, stretching carefully out until his head was on the pillow. “That was—okay?”

“Let me say thank you,” said Dan, and thought it came out slurred. He rolled over onto the bed, pulling his legs under him so he could kneel up. Casey’s eyebrows went up and when Dan went down on him, Casey made a gratifyingly high-pitched noise, and didn’t last any longer than Dan had.

It was different, sucking Casey as compared to the condom-covered silicon of Sally’s strap-on. That had always been just a little cooler than body temperature, with a slight give that never changed. Casey—he could tell when Casey was about to come, the moment he tipped over the edge, from the sudden tension and the heavy pulse a split second before the hot wash of come filled his mouth.

Casey kissed him, after, which he wasn’t expecting, and which felt like a promise.

 

Around four a.m., when they’d been dozing for a little while and really should have been asleep, Casey said, “God, I need a shower,” with longing in his voice.

“I’m not stopping you.”

“That’s debatable.”

Dan shrugged, not moving. Casey kissed him again.

“Shower with me.”

“You trying to tell me I stink?”

“You trying to tell me you don’t?”

Dan laughed—he couldn’t help it. He was tired, so tired, and wrung-out, fucked-out. He felt like he’d won the lottery, or maybe gotten the shit kicked out of him.

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll shower with you.”

Casey gave him a moment and then nudged him with one shoulder. “You have to actually get up.”

“Says you.”

But he swung his legs off the side of the bed, sitting up, and they got into Dan’s too-small shower, two guys trying to fit into space meant for one. Ducking around each other under the spray—it was cozy, domestic.

And Casey kept touching him. Kept touching him like it meant something, every time, hands lingering, caresses.

It would have been so easy to be happy, and he almost could be.

“Were you trying to leave me?” he heard himself say, as Casey was toweling his hair dry.

Casey blinked at him. “What?”

“When the show sold. When you—”

“Told you to go to LA?”

“Yeah.”

“Without you.”

Dan cocked unenthusiastic finger guns at him. “Got it.”

Casey blew out a weighty breath. “It wasn’t like that.”

“What was it like?”

“I knew—” Casey made a face, wincing. “I knew by then. How I felt. About you.”

“And?”

“And it wasn’t—it wasn’t easy, okay, it was really hard, and I thought. Maybe.”

“Maybe,” said Dan slowly, “if I left—”

“If you went away—”

“It would be easier?”

Casey nodded glumly.

“And instead, we both stayed.” Dan felt like he was putting together a puzzle by touch in the dark.

“Yeah.”

“And it didn’t get easier?”

Casey laughed, a startled, brief honk. “It really didn’t.”

“But you stayed.”

Casey shrugged, looking away, folding the towel to hang it back over the rack to dry. “I couldn’t—in the end, I just couldn’t.”

“Yeah,” said Dan. “I know what that’s like.”

He kissed Casey. Casey seemed surprised, but then, Casey seemed surprised a significant proportion of the time.

 

Sally on the court was a beast. “What the fuck!” yelled Dan, ducking, as the ball nearly took his head off.

“You knew I was good at this!” she yelled back, and then effortlessly retrieved the ball and dunked on him, which was just adding insult to injury.

“I didn’t know you were freakishly good at it!”

“I could have gone pro.” She took advantage of his outraged pause to take the ball from him again. “You’ve got to give me some actual competition, here.”

“Maybe if we made it two on one—”

She laughed out loud, making an effortless three-point shot. “I thought we already did that!”

“Ooh, give the lady a prize for that quip!” Dan nabbed it back from her and finally made a one-point shot. “There we go!”

She shoulder-checked him to get the ball again.

“How’s the old ball and chain?” she asked, sidestepping him.

“Fine. How’s the uncomplicated, wild and free sexual liberation of a modern—” He got the ball back from her as she dribbled. “—career woman?”

“Pretty great!” She got it back after his next shot, which missed. “I’m sleeping with a yoga instructor right now.”

“Sounds bendy.”

“In all the best ways.”

She turned around in the sunlight, hair pulled back tightly, a sheen of sweat just starting on her forehead, and he startled himself with the realization that he really liked her, in that way he sometimes found himself liking people he’d slept with and knew he wasn’t in love with; fond, proud, but not even the slightest bit possessive. She was who she was, and what she was, and that was plenty. She was Sally, whole and finished in herself. She didn’t need Dan, which was nice, but still enjoyed him, which was nicer.

She dunked on him again and crowed with laughter.

He’d go to Casey’s place, later.

“Not bad, short stack,” she said, and spun the ball on one finger, and he smiled back at her.