Deran gets in early, the sun just a haze of pink over the horizon. He's only been gone for five days - had to organize a new contract with the liquor supplier and apparently couldn't do it over the phone - but it's still a relief to get inside and see the bar's in one piece.
Craig’s mostly naked on his sofa. It's a small price to pay.
“Yo, Craig,” Deran says softly, kicking his foot and laughing at the way Craig's whole body jolts. “Keith Richards called, he said you're weak as shit, man.”
“Fuck you,” Craig grumbles into the cushion, struggling to even sit up straight.
“The place looks okay. No crazy keggers? Nothing caught fire?”
“With Hailey here? No way, dude, she's scarier than you.”
“Yeah.” He'll have to get her a thank you gift or something - she's the only reason this place is still running. “Why do you think I hired her?”
“Look, man, I gotta tell you,” Craig starts, and Deran slumps into his chair eithna groan. Of course, there had to be something.
“What did you do?”
“Nothing! Nothing. It's not about the bar. It’s Adrian.”
“Adrian? What happened to him, is he okay?”
“He's fine, I think. He came here yesterday and dropped off some of your stuff.” Craig waves a hand at the corner of the room. There's a small box there, lonely and sad looking. “He's gone.”
“What do you mean, gone? I thought Hawaii wasn't for a few months?”
“No, gone. Like, packed up all his shit and moved away and didn't leave a forwarding address. Gone.”
“No,” Deran says and then can't figure out what he's supposed to say next. He'd seen Adrian last week. They'd fucked over the desk and laughed over a beer and kissed by the front door for so long Deran had to brace himself against the wall.
They were going somewhere, at last.
“I'm sorry, man,” Craig says quietly, pityingly, and it pushes Deran over the edge. He gets to his feet and roars.
“Why didn't you call me? Why didn't you say something, or do something, or … or …”
“You think I said no worries, buddy, have a nice trip?” Craig yells back. “I tried to talk to him, I tried to get him to tell me something, but he wouldn't say shit. Kept telling me he just needed a clean break.”
“I don't fucking know!”
“Fuck!” Deran picks up the chair and throws it across the room. It's loud, cracking against the wall, and if he thought it would help he was kidding himself. “Fuck.”
There's not much in the box Adrian left. A Radiohead CD, a t-shirt, the wad of cash Deran had given him to put towards his next flight. There's also a weaved bracelet in there that Adrian used to wear all the time - Deran had put it on his wrist when they were 17, right before a comp and right before the first time Adrian had kissed him.
It's a weird thing to cry about, but Deran does.
“Dude,” Chad - Adrian’s roommate - says when he opens the door, pulling a face like he'd been waiting for this. “He left Sunday, no I don't know where he is, and no he wouldn't tell me why he was leaving either. Okay?”
Deran punches the door jam, right next to his face. It hurts, but he welcomes the distraction. “No asshole, not okay!”
“What the fuck are you gonna do to me, Cody?” Chad snaps, despite the shake to his voice. “Waterboard me? I don't know shit. He didn't tell me anything because he knew you'd beat it out of me. Fuck you.”
Chad tries to slam the door but Deran throws out a hand. He never really knew or became close with Adrian’s friends. They'd been around for the worst of it, the lowest parts of their relationship - they were never going to warm to him. “Alright, alright,” Deran says with a sigh, trying to win back any scrap of decency he can. “Sorry. I believe you, okay. I'm not - I just need to find him.”
“It looks a lot like he doesn't want you to.”
“I don't care, I can't... I need...” Deran stumbles. He's never let himself need anything, if he could help it. Just Adrian. “I need to talk to him, at least. Did he give you a number? An email? Anything?”
“I told you, no. He said he'd call one day and let me know he's okay. That's it.”
Chad's a five foot nothing coke head that Deran could snap in two if he wanted. He knew better than to lie. Besides, it's the same stuff Adrian’s sister said, and all the guys at the board shop, and all the people along the strip that he surfed with.
Adrian’s gone. He didn't say where. He wouldn't tell them why.
He just said goodbye.
He just left.
Deran remembers the first day they met. Adrian was wearing this maroon tank top that gaped at the arms, trying so hard not to stand out. He had less freckles and more hair and when some girl tried to snuggle up with him he pushed her off with a smile.
Deran had watched him all afternoon.
The hunch of his shoulders in the crowd and the long, confident line of his back in the surf. The flick of water from his hair, the curve of his mouth around a joint, the scratch of his fingers on his chest when he was nervous.
Deran had wanted, wanted, wanted - right from the start.
“Hey baby, haven't seen you in a while.”
Adrian's been gone two and a half weeks when Deran decides to see Smurf. It's a desperate clutch of straws - he's exhausted every possibility, and made a lot of people angry, and if no one else knows why Adrian’s disappeared then this is all he's got.
Smurf knows everything. Right?
“I need to find Adrian.”
“Why? Is he in some kind of trouble?”
“I don't know. I was hoping you could tell me.”
She stops what she's doing - kneading pastry to make a pie to add to all the other pies no one is eating - dusting off her hands. “What are you talking about?”
Deran just looks at her. He's never been able to tell what's true and what’s a lie. He used to think he’d grow up and just get it, but it didn’t happen. She never wanted him to know her completely. “Tell me you had nothing to do with this,” he finally says, his fingers clenched on the benchtop.
“Deran, honey, what is going on?”
“Tell me you didn't threaten him, or run him out, or give him a load of money to get him out of my life.”
Smurf still shows nothing on her face. Not even her usual condescending smile that sets his teeth on edge.
“Why would I do that, baby? He makes you happy, doesn't he? That's all I ever wanted for you.”
“Right,” Deran says with a sigh, tipping his head to let it go. Maybe she did and maybe she didn't, but it's not about her any more. He won't let it be about her.
“He left Oceanside and didn't tell you?”
“Whatever, it doesn't matter.”
“It sounds like it matters.” She tries to reach out and touch him but Deran pulls away. “Do you want me to ask around, get the word out? I might be able to find something out.”
“Don't bother,” Deran says and it means no. Stay out of my life. They both know it. “I'll sort it out.”
Six weeks and some days later, Deran's run out of options. He's been to every spot along the coast - even back to Belize - but no one's talking. He rents a shitty unit by the beach, and works around the clock, and fucks whoever walks into the bar and shows an interest.
Its after a night of the usual heavy drinking, while Deran’s nursing a hangover, that someone's banging on his front door. His first guess is his boring neighbour, Glen, who doesn't deserve a beachside home in California or the quiet he keeps demanding.
But it's not Glen. It's Adrian's sister.
“Jess,” Deran starts, coughing wetly and pushing his hair back into something remotely okay. “Hey, do you want…?”
“No.” She pulls a face at him. “I won't be long.”
“Is everything alright? Is Adrian…”
“He's in Myrtle Beach,” she says so fast Deran barely makes out the words. Her expression right after tells him she hates that she's doing this - but Deran can't force himself to care. He's finally, finally, a step closer.
“What the fuck is he doing there?”
“I'm not here to answer to you, Deran. I just thought you should know. He's there, he's fine, he's taking care of himself. So you need to stop this shit now, okay? He doesn't belong to you. He never did.”
“I don't think that.”
Jess scoffs at him. She's got the same eyes, her mouth moves like his - It's an ache in Deran’s gut that will never go away. “Maybe not. But you let him think that, didn't you? For way too long.”
He won't deny it. He knows she was Adrian's only real family, after he came out. The only one he could really talk to for such a long time. She’s not stupid. “All that shit’s in the past. I'm not that guy any more.”
“Fine! Good for you!” Jess cries, snidely. “Let some other poor asshole enjoy the benefits and leave Adrian alone.”
“I love him, Jess,” he says quietly, “I've been in love with him since I was sixteen and I never told him.”
“He knows.” Jess props her bag back onto her shoulder properly, fixes her bangs. There's a finality to the way she steps back, like she's telling him that's all he's going to get. It’s over. “He already knew, and he still left. Because it's not enough, Deran. It's never been enough.”
There's more than 30,000 people living in Myrtle Beach and Deran's only looking for one. With no information and nothing to go on and the certainty that Adrian doesn't want to be found - it's probably the dumbest thing he's ever done.
But he's here anyway.
He'd left Hailey in charge, left some cash for Craig, and left with just a duffel bag full of clothes. He'd wondered the whole time if that was how Adrian had felt, leaving; not sure where he was going, or what he'd do when he'd get there. Only sure it was what he needed to do.
Deran rents an old bomb of a car and trawls the coast. (Adrian can reinvent himself, can run to the opposite end of the country, but there's no way in hell he can live without water.) Deran shows a photo, and asks around, and tracks every surf comp he can get to in time.
He spends days on the road, and sleeping rough, and ignoring phone calls from home that are mostly Pope being pissed off he doesn't have an extra body to push around. He stays in crappy places to at least get a shower, and food, and ignores the voice in his head telling him it's pointless, just go home.
On a Wednesday, Adrian shows up at Deran's motel room.
His hair’s shorter and his skin is fairer and he's the best thing Deran's seen since Adrian left town. He's spitting mad, so red in the face, but it's taking everything Deran has not to pull him close. To palm at his neck and hush him, like he used to, tell him everything was okay.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
Adrian pushes passed and into the room. “I can't believe Jess told you, Jesus Christ.”
Once he’s closed the door, Deran turns to face Adrian slowly. He's pacing, clawing a hand into his hair like he wants to pull out what's left of it. He's wearing jeans and a t-shirt and shoes Deran's never seen before, and it's like he never left. They could be in the bar right now, fighting over the price of beer.
“She only did it to get me to stop looking.”
“Yeah, she never fucking knew you.”
When Deran tells him, “You look good,” Adrian stops.
“Seriously? Two months,” Ten weeks, Deran thinks to himself, “And that's all you've got?”
“I got plenty.” Deran shrugs. “But it's true.”
Adrian seems to deflate, losing steam and shaking his head. “You gotta leave, man. I don't want you here.”
“Why? I thought things were good. I thought we were good.”
“What, the fucking? We were always good at that.”
Deran falters. For him it had been the surfing, and the breakfasts, and the stupid apartment hunting - the way Adrian had smiled at Deran like he'd never done anything wrong in his life. “You were the best thing about me.”
“Yeah? But not enough to stop the armed robberies, or the car heists, or the bank jobs? Not enough to go legit like you swore you would?”
“I told you, I needed to own the place fair and square - ”
“No, you wanted. Like you wanted me, right? And Deran Cody always gets what he wants.”
“You're telling me I am the reason you left? You hate me that much?”
Adrian makes a loud, disgusted sound. “Hate? Sure, man, I've always hated you. I hated you when you hid me from your friends, and when you beat me up, and when you tried to fuck some girl right in front of me. I hated you all those times and that's why I kept coming back. Because I hate you, I hate you so much I can't think properly and I let it happen again and again and again. I hate you.”
He's got tears now, and Deran's trying to push his own down. He gets it, he knows Adrian, more than he's ever known any one. Better than he knows himself.
And if he loved this man as much as he thinks he does he should walk away from this. He should move on.
But even if he's changed, he's still a selfish bastard.
“Just go home, would you? Just leave me alone.”
The week before Adrian had disappeared, he'd been curled half asleep in Deran's bed and laughing at an episode of I Love Lucy. He liked all that old shit - Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley, the one with the talking car (because he secretly lusted after the eighties hair, for sure) - and Deran kept them on DVD. Just for him.
“You were born in the wrong decade,” Deran had told him fondly, kissing Adrian's bare shoulder as he got back into bed with him.
“As a gay man, I'm gonna say no.”
“I just like the innocence of it, you know. TVs so serious now.”
Deran scoffed. “Says the guy who watched every episode of Breaking Bad in like, one day.”
“Yeah, well, it's not all roses.”
They'd watched together, and laughed, and ended back in each other's arms, later, fucking soft and slow with the sound of the TV in the background.
It had been so perfect.
Deran had been so sure.
That was it for him.
He was done.
After Adrian's visit, it’s not hard to track him down. There’s a board shop down by the beach with a big, old rusty sign out the front that reads, Surf Lessons Here. Deran had hoped he’d be competing, but he's not surprised to see Adrian inside, protective gear on and working the plane.
“Can I help you?” some big guy asks from behind Deran – he’s wearing a white tank top that barely fits and looking like Vin Diesel in every meat head movie he’s ever made. Deran offers his hand and pretends he’s not as intimidated as he feels.
“Uh, hey man.”
“Hey.” Vin Diesel still looks unimpressed. “You need something?”
“Oh, I'm a..." Friend seems like a stretch right now. “I know Adrian. I thought I might see if he’s free to catch up.”
The guy looks him up and down. “Are you the asshole from Cali?”
“Mo,“ Adrian calls out, and Deran feels his guts fly into his throat. He wonders if he’d rather face this guy, or a pissed off Adrian. “It's fine. I’m good.”
Adrian just goes back to his board and Deran just follows him. They’ve been here too many times, he knows. Deran trying to apologise and Adrian waiting for something more. Deran’s got nothing else to offer him, really. Just himself.
He'd hoped that was finally going to be enough.
“You’re wasting your time,” Adrian says eventually, ripping off his goggles and reaching for a towel. He’s just miles of skin and freckles and dust and he’s beautiful. Deran’s hands clench from wanting to touch.
“I didn't come all this way for it to be over.”
“Well it is.”
“No,” Deran growls, all but lunging closer. “You're my best friend, I ... I love you. I can't let you go like this.”
Adrian's gaze flickers, only enough for Deran to notice- but he just looks away. Deran knew that Jess was right, that Adrian’s always known Deran loves him. But he’d hoped it might make a difference, hearing the words. “It’s not your choice.”
“What happened? Before you left, we were happy weren't we? I thought we were happy.”
“Happy, how?” Adrian bushes himself at his tool table , throwing things around. “In bed, or in the bubble? Forgetting that you, your family, you're fucking criminals. That your brother was shot dead in his driveway and you could be too? That your mother is a psycho with your balls in her grip – that you'll never be free of them? You’ll never choose me.”
“What do you think I’m here for?”
“To win me back!” Adrian yells at him, the table clattering. “So I'll follow you home, and you can put me back on your shelf, and you can have everything you want, when you want it.”
“Fuck you, man, you know that’s not true. You've gotta know that’s not true.”
“Adrian.” Vin Diesel’s back, standing at the door with his arms crossed, like the figurative brick wall Deran’s smashing his head against. They all say nothing for a moment, letting the dust settle – Deran takes the chance to catch his breath.
“Sorry,” he says, and means it more than he ever has. “I don’t know ... I'm not here to make you do anything. I’m here because you were gone and I didn’t know how to ... I couldn’t ... Fuck.”
“Just go, Deran, please,” Adrian says, wiping at his face. “I need to get this done, and I have a class later and ... you can’t be here, alright?”
Deran hasn’t spoken to any one back home. They'd all known why he'd left – that he had no idea what was going to happen or how long he’d be gone. Besides, they were the Codys. Disappearing for weeks at a time wasn’t so unheard of.
“Deran, man,” Craig says when he answers Deran’s call. He sounds half asleep, despite the fact it would be about 3 in the afternoon there. “Did you find him?”
“Shit, you did?”
Deran huffs. “Don’t sound so surprised.”
“No, I just – well that's good, yeah? How is he?”
“Fine, I guess. Making boards, giving surf lessons.”
“Sounds perfect for Adrian.”
Deran doesn’t answer. He’s tucked into a booth at some old diner, putting too much sugar into his coffee and trying to ignore the dessert specials. “How’s things there?”
“Fine, D. Hailey’s killing it at the bar. And Pope's got us this sick job – He wanted to talk to you, see if you're in.”
“I’m not,” Deran says flatly, final. The thought of working with them again – being part of that while Adrian’s thousands of miles away. It's not gonna happen. He can’t face it.
“Yeah, figured you’d say that.” Craig sighs. “When you coming back?”
“I don’t know. I – He doesn’t want to see me. But I can’t leave it like this.”
“Did he tell you why he left?”
“Not really. Just that he can’t handle being a part of it any more. I don’t know.”
Craig’s quiet for a little while and Deran’s grip tightens on his mug. When Craig says, “He was always a good guy in the wrong place,” it’s not the jab that Deran was expecting but it hurts the same. He doesn't deserve Adrian. He gets it.
“Look, D...” Craig goes on. He’s not the voice of reason, not usually, but it’s Adrian. Deran's got no brains at all when it comes to Adrian. “If you want to be with him, then be with him. He spent his life back here waiting on you. Maybe it's time you did the same for him.”
Deran holds his breath. “I don’t think he'd let me.”
“Then come home. And let him go.”
Deran has half booked a flight back to LAX when Adrian shows up again. He’s a few feet from the door and swinging his car keys on a finger – Deran knows he’s trying hard to seem relaxed. It’s the steely gaze he gets before a wave. Or the face he’d make at Deran when he saw another Cody approaching.
“There’s a bar down the road, I go there a lot,” Adrian tells him, no hello, no explanations.
“Well you've come all this way, haven’t you? You might as well buy me a drink.”
Deran knows it’s stupid to get his hopes up, but he can’t help but smile. He grabs his wallet, and follows Adrian to some beat up Chevy that Deran would make fun of if he wasn’t already in Adrian’s bad books.
He just shuts his mouth and straps in for the ride.
It’s a nice little spot Adrian’s chosen. Not too over crowded and easy to get around. Deran’s spent a few days just wondering about now – into the ocean for a swim or by a place for some hot chips or into some little charity shop to get some books to keep him busy.
He’s never read so much in his life.
“Adrian-" he says when they’ve settled at a table, gotten first drinks in and sat awkwardly silent for five minutes. But Adrian throws up a hand.
“No,” he says firmly. “You want to do this? Then there’s no talking about us, or this, or whatever. Okay?”
“Okay,” Deran repeats slowly, smiling at the authoritative tone Adrian's taken. “What can we talk about?”
“Smartass.” Adrian throws his bottle cap at him. “Should I get a napkin and write some things down for you?”
“Might help.” The little smile on Adrian's face is more than enough for Deran. They could sit here in silence and he’d still be a hundred times happier than when he woke up this morning. “Let’s just talk about you then. Done any comps lately?”
“Local ones," Adrian tells him with a shrug. “It was kind of a relief to finish up to be honest. I couldn't slow down, you know? It was too much.”
“What about school? You looking to study again?”
“Yeah, probably. Just working out what I want to do.”
“Well clearly you like giving surf lessons, if the little kids and old men having midlife crises hasn’t put you off. ” Adrian huffs. “Maybe you could teach.”
“Maybe. I don't know.”
Deran let’s it sit for a moment, trying not to push. He really didn’t come here with expectations. He didn't want Adrian to change anything for him. He just wanted this. The two of them together. “I’d love to paddle out with you before I go.”
“If you've got time.”
Adrian picks at the label of his beer bottle. His face is half shadowed and his mouth is thin but he says, “I guess we could.”
And Deran will take it.
When they were kids, they'd talked about the future. Dumb shit, like winning the Pipeline Masters, and sailing around the world and never stepping foot back in Oceanside. They used to talk a lot, which was the saddest thing - when they got older, and realised what they were doing, well.
The words got a lot harder to say.
They went from best friends to lovers to some shadow of what they used to be. In love, sure, but not the way other people got to be. It was dark, and treacherous, and had no place in the daylight.
“Why do you do that?” Adrian had asked him, once, after Deran had shoved him against a wall and fucked him without much warning.
He was already pulling on his boots. “What?”
“Just fuck and run. You can hang out, you know? It's not gayer now that you sucked my dick.”
“I've got Halo, and chips, and Netflix, man.”
“I can't. Smurf needs -”
Adrian scoffed at him, totally mocking. “Right, sorry, you've got other dicks to suck.”
Deran remembers the sound Adrian's back made crashing against the wall - the breath that was forced out of him. “Shut your goddamn mouth,” Deran hissed, his face right against Adrian's, and he'd felt so much like he'd needed to vomit.
Not because he was gay. But because he was hurting the only thing that made it okay.
The only thing that stopped him from giving up.
Adrian takes Deran to a quiet little beach at the crack of dawn. The swell's not great, but it’s not like they need a challenge – everything else is hard enough. Deran revels in the opportunity to just watch Adrian do his thing. He knows that Adrian's not some surfing prodigy, that there are plenty of guys just as good as him. But Deran's bias.
He’s been watching Adrian surf for ten years and it never gets old. Not once.
Deran doesn’t get out on the water enough. He used to do it every morning just to calm down and catch his breath and remember to be grateful for what he finally had. A job outside the family, a life outside the closet, friends outside the bullshit.
He’s not sure he'll be doing much of that for a while. Gratitude.
“So what are your tips, coach?” Deran asks him, later, as the sun is fully up and they’ve collapsed onto the sand. Adrian’s shaking water from his hair, rubbing at his ears, and it makes Deran feel so young suddenly. All those years, just gone.
“You know you're good.”
Deran smiles at him. “Don’t recommend a time machine? A brand new knee?”
“If it was part of the service, I'd get it for you.”
They used to surf on anything. The older guys would give them so much shit, calling them stupid grommets like they didn’t know a good wave from their asshole. It wasn’t that though. They just took any excuse to spend time together.
“A guy came to my place,” Adrian says, apropos of nothing. He pulls his knees to his chest for warmth. “Back in Oceanside.”
“Before you left?”
Adrian nods. “He knew about us, and knew that I was flying in and out a lot. He said he’d make me an offer.”
Deran feels anger surge up, his fingers clenched in the sand. So this was it. The catalyst. He knew there had to be something. “The fuck – who was it?”
“Just a guy, it doesn’t matter.”
“I started to realise they weren’t taking no for an answer,” he went on, ignoring him. “So that was it. I packed up my shit and took off.”
“You should have told me!” Deran cries, “I would've-"
“What? Got into a fucking turf war with a bunch of coke heads?” Adrian snaps, and he looks disgusted. Like Deran just proved how stupid he was. “They were dangerous, and it wasn’t worth...”
“Yes, it was. You are worth-"
“It wasn't just that,” Adrian tells him, getting loud now. “It just – it was the last straw. You kept disappearing on ‘jobs’ and you’d never come out with my friends, and you looked at a dozen places to live and wouldn’t choose anything. You weren’t – You couldn’t cut the cord from that house, and them, and I couldn’t...”
“I wanted to, I want to,” Deran rushes to tell him, almost pleadingly. He reaches out a hand to clasp into Adrian's wetsuit, pulling gently to anchor. “I just – I want to have more to offer. All I’ve got right now is an okay business and a lot of debt.”
“I don’t give a shit about that, Deran. I never have.”
“I know, I know that, but it always felt like I needed something real. Collateral, you know? Otherwise I’d just keep crawling back there.”
Adrian looks over to him at last his face open and ungrudging when he says, “You actually think you’ll stop?”
It feels like a punch, everything tilting sideways. “Yes,” he tells Adrian honestly, because after everything that has happened, after all these months, he's finally proven to himself he doesn’t need them. He loves Craig, sure, but that's not need, that’s unselfish. “Yeah, I do.”
They watch the water together for a little while longer, the surfers just shapes against the horizon. This used to be their sanctuary, the one thing the Codys couldn't touch. Now they can’t even have that.
“So, you stay here, and you meet someone and life goes on, yeah?” Deran says but Adrian’s not looking at him. “What do you want from it? What’s the true dream?”
Adrian lets out a breath, and maybe it’s one he’d been holding for a while. "I just want to be happy. And safe. I want to know I've done the best I can. And if I have someone there, someone I can rely on – Then great. Life will be great.”
Deran stops by the surf shop the next day to let Adrian know he’s going home. The ticket’s booked, his bag - for what it's worth – is packed. He can’t keep doing this to Adrian any more. He can’t keep doing it to himself.
“I’ve gotta work late,” is what Adrian says when Deran tells him he's leaving. Deran tries not to notice how he looks disappointed.
“That’s cool, man, just thought I’d let you know.”
“Yeah, okay. Sure.”
Deran offers a hand to shake, and Adrian takes it; but he also pulls Deran in and claps him on the back. Deran closes his eyes and breathes him in. He won't forget. “If I’m ever in town I'll drop by,” he tells Adrian with a forced smile – it seems impossible that they'll ever cross paths again.
Deran decides to have a slow afternoon. His flight’s not until late – he’d booked it in hopes he could sleep – so he sits for some food, and beer, and walks along the beach on his way back to the motel. It feels like another chapter closed. The same as when he’d done his knee. The same as when they’d come back from Belize. The same as the night Adrian had told him, you can’t make me feel something I don’t.
Except Adrian's waiting for him when he gets to his room.
“Uh, hi,” Deran says tentatively. Adrian seems to jitter. “You want to go grab a drink? I’ve still got time.”
“No,” he shakes his head, and puts his hands in his pockets. “Can I come in?”
“Uh, yeah, sure.”
Deran fumbles with the keys a little, and almost trips over as he’s kicking off his shoes. He lets Adrian close the door behind him and busies himself in the kitchen saying, “I haven’t got much here, maybe a leftover Corona if you’re lucky.”
“You know I’m not coming back, right?” Adrian says suddenly, still hovering near the door. Deran feels cornered.
“I just – you told me you love me -"
“And I don’t want to play with your feelings.”
“What do you mean?”
Adrian closes the space between them so fast Deran barely has time to shut the fridge door. He pushes Deran into the counter with his mouth, and hands, and body – kisses wet and biting and controlling. Deran just lets it happen. His fingers claw at Adrian's back before pulling, yanking, tearing his shirt up off his head.
“You saying you don't love me back?” Deran asks him breathlessly, while Adrian scrapes teeth at his neck. “This is just a farewell fuck for you? No feelings.”
Adrian doesn’t say anything, just keeps mouthing at him and pulling at his clothes and Deran will give him whatever he wants but he's still gotta know. “Hey.” He grabs Adrian's face with both hands, runs a thumb along his bottom lip. “You don’t love me?”
“No,” Adrian blinks hard to focus. “No, I’m in love with you, I’ve been in love with you since I was sixteen years old. But I’m still not going back there. You have to know. This isn't...”
“I know,” Deran says, and hushes him, and holds him and kisses him. “Come to bed.”
Adrian caved and gave Deran his new number. He wrote it on a piece of paper like it was 2001, and it burned a hole in Deran's pocket all the way back to Oceanside. It wasn’t meant to be a lifeline.
“Nice of you to show your face,” Hailey teases when Deran gets back. It’s night and the place is packed and he might as well have never left. Everything looks the same.
“Thank you,” he says sincerely, kissing her on the cheek. “I’d be fucked without you around.”
“Don’t I know it. You find your boy?”
She passes a drink to someone by the bar, side-eying Deran as if she’d expected more than that. “Is he doing okay?”
“Yeah, he's good. It's all good.”
Deran's not letting any one know where Adrian ended up. He trusts Hailey, and Craig, but he can’t afford to risk it. Adrian might believe in him again one day, and he wants to be able to say he deserves it.
“I’m fine,” he tells her, but he’s tired in every way possible and he can’t handle the sympathy. “I’ll just be out back.”
He sits at his desk and flips through papers for a while. The photo Adrian gave him is sitting there mocking him, and the light is burning his eyes. This is it, he supposes. The way it had been last time he lost Adrian. Work, drink, fuck and sleep.
Everything had been on repeat for a while.
When Craig shows up half an hour later and says, “Hey, man, you’re back,” Deran just falls apart completely.
Craig let’s him rest his head on a shoulder, and Deran cries silently for the kid he used to be, and the man he may have been, and the life he could have lived.
That's over now too.
Deran does one more job with the Codys. It’s hard to sit at a table with all of them – Pope, J, Smurf, some chick one of them is banging – and understand his place there. He’s not modest, he knows his good at what he does. He's been doing it since he was old enough to walk, he’d want to be good at it.
There's just no mould any more. The baby, the bad boy, the misunderstood. Who was that guy, and did they need Deran to be him?
“Deran, you’re quiet,” Smurf says at their last run through. “You got nothing to add, baby?”
Deran resists the urge to scoff at her. He’s had plenty to add, for years. Why would they pretend to care about it now? “No. I’m good.”
“You’re with us on this, right?” Pope presses. “I don’t need you to pussy out at the last minute.”
“I’m fine, Jesus. If I had a problem I'd tell you.” Deran gets up out of his chair. He’s got a bar to run, and people to see, and pointing a gun at some rich prick and demanding his money is not really high on his list of concerns. “I'm clear on the plan, it’s a good plan. What do you want me to say?”
“Anything other than, ‘got it',” J suggests, and one of Deran's hands curls into a fist on instinct.
It’s a shame, what’s happened to the kid. Did the Codys fuck him up, or had his mother done that already? Deran can’t tell. He just knows he'll never be close to the guy, and he'll sure as hell never trust him.
“You’d rather hear that I don't get it?”
“He just means usually you're more insightful,” Smurf adds, and that helps even less. Deran shoots a look at Craig who's been quiet and useless, and resents that he can get away with it.
“I’m going,” he tells them, not bothering to look any one in the eye in case they try to rope him into a another argument. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Deran gets shot. It’s a through and through and he's fine but it fucking hurts like nothing else. He doesn’t remember much from straight after, except the sound of his screaming, and Craig swearing so much that he probably set some kind of record. He’s had worse.
Besides, he gets off easy. One of their better contacts find him a doctor who promises he'll get back full range and motion. It just takes time.
And Deran's got plenty of that.
“You want me to run it,” Hailey repeats back at him, and Deran huffs.
“Look at me, dude.” He motions to his shoulder. “What good am I, besides balancing the books? Plus, I really don’t need the attention right now.”
“It will be more money, of course, and more staff. You can do it, Hails. You’re better than me at this shit.”
“Don’t pretend you haven’t been practically doing it all on your own lately anyway.”
Hailey just shrugs. She’s not modest. She shouldn’t be. “Okay, then. Sure. Let’s talk money.”
Deran just laughs.
Adrian barely answers Deran’s calls or texts. He never posts anything online, or leaves messages for his friends. He’s mostly in the wind again, and Deran can’t blame him. There's distance now, and clarity.
A chance to remember why he'd run.
(Deran just feels the space like gasping breaths.)
“What the fuck are you doing, man,” Pope growls from the door to Deran’s office, and scaring the shit out of him.
“Jesus Christ - “
“You're a fucking shit stain , look at you,” he growls again, lunging over to get Deran by the collar and launch him onto his desk. He’s crisp and clean and ordered as usual, it’s just his eyes and fists that are wild.
“Get off me, man,”
“You left for him, and came back alone,” Pope shouts, “But it’s like you don’t exist. You just sit there and pity yourself and rot.”
“I said get the fuck off me!” Deran yells again, but it’s only because Pope’s letting him that he manages to get up.
“You're here but you’re not with us, and you were there but you’re not with him. So which is it, huh?”
“Which is It?!” Pope yells, but this time its all consuming. Pope is just a mess of anger and abuse - there's not much of him that lives outside of that – but Deran wonders how much of this is about Deran. And how much is about Pope.
“I can't - "
“Yes you can. You fucking did, already, didn’t you?”
“Get the fuck out of here Deran. Not because I’m telling you to, not because you know me or Smurf or J are gonna drag you back to that house and make you fucking bleed for this again. Go because you fucking want to. You fucking want to. And you’re the only one who should get what he wants.”
It was warm in Belize, 86 degrees most days and a perfect breeze off the coast. Every scene was like something off a postcard; colours and sun and beauty. Their days were filled with surfing and friends and a dream-like quality as though it was all just something impossible.
But Deran longed for the nights.
He longed for the sound of Adrian rustling outside his window. The sound of his laughter as he watched Deran try to squeeze silently out of his room . The sound of their feet and legs and bodies racing through the long brush and making their way to the shore.
He longed for the midnight swims and the hoot of their voices and their shared, knowing looks as they made their way to somewhere secluded to fuck silly.
So many times Deran would be buried inside Adrian, so familiar, like coming home. So many times Adrian would press his face to Deran’s, hiss and whisper,
“Deran, Deran, I,” and mean so many things.
I'm coming, I love this, I love you.
So many times Deran wouldn’t let him finish, would just say, “Yeah, me too,” and still be truthful.
It was warm in Belize, but no heat felt like that again.
Their bodies surged together and their hearts on their sleeve.
The words on the tips of their tongues.
I love you.
It’s early when Deran calls. Adrian makes a sound into his phone like he’s pissed off but doesn’t have the energy to really express it. It makes Deran smile.
“Hey, man,” Deran says softly. “How’s it going?”
“I was fine before you woke me up. Where's the fire?”
“No, I just wanted to call. Run something by you.”
Adrian's quiet for a while, and there's sounds like he’s struggling to sit up. Deran pictures him there, all those long lines of freckles and flesh. He loses his breath at the thought, like he’s drowning in it. “Oh, yeah? What’s that.”
“Well, I sold the bar. And I'm looking to get out of here. Maybe set up shop somewhere new.”
“And I wondered, if I didn’t have anywhere else to go... You know, if I literally had no one else in my life... Maybe you and me could be friends?”
The line goes silent again, he can just hear Adrian's breathing. “You’re drunk," he finally says, and Deran laughs. It feels good. “What time is it there? Are you drunk?”
“No. I’m serious.”
“I’m not asking for anything from you, okay,” Deran promises, and then realises his mistake. “I mean – I guess I am. I’m asking you to believe me. I’m out, I’m done – my family don't even know where I am right now. No one does. Not even Craig."
“I don't - "
“I sold up everything I had, squared away any debts or bad blood – I’m done. I swear to you, I promise you. I’m done.”
“Wait – You – What do you mean no one knows where you are? Are you alright, are you safe?”
“Didn’t you hear me? I’m not with my family. Of course I'm safe.”
He actually manages to make Adrian laugh, just a little, with that one. So many things crackle between them, from ear to ear and heart to heart. Adrians waited more than ten years to hear anything like this. Deran's not sure what he might expect him to say. “Jesus, Deran. You don’t out call someone up and tell them you're emancipated or some shit. That’s not normal.”
“Well I am. I did. I’m free.”
“You’re serious,” Adrian says, and it’s reverent, like he believes it but it still doesn’t feel real.
“Yeah," Deran promises again, and hes never been the smartest guy but there's really no other way to say it. New chapter, blank page, open road. "So... so can I come see you? Can I...”
“Uh, yeah... Yes.” He makes a sound, and Deran feels it tight on his chest. “ Come see me. Please.”
"I'm gonna call it The Gorkin," Deran tells Adrian, sprawled naked together on Adrian's bed and eating peanut butter straight from the tub.
"Are you allowed?"
"I don't care."
Adrian's grinning at him around his spoon. "Alright. I'll bite. Why are you gonna call your bar The Gorkin?"
"Because I finally did it, yeah?"
"What, flipped? I'd say, you crazy motherf-"
Deran lunges on him, the peanut butter crashing to the floor and Adrian's hands pinned above his head. "No, no asshole. I finally landed. I finally did it right. With you."
Adrian is still grinning, pushing up enough to kiss Deran, to tell him, "Yeah. You did."