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We're Taking the Long Way Home

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Unfamiliar McDonald’s on a long road trip.


Laurent woke up when Damen stopped their car in front of a bright lamped Mcdonald’s; part of it was because the car’s engine was not humming and the other part was because of the blinding light coming from the fast food restaurant. He checked his watch, it was a little bit after midnight. He adjusted himself from his sleeping position and pulled himself to sit straight. He let out a big yawn and rubbed his eyes.

“It’s the only thing open right now,” Damen sounded apologetic. “And I think it’s also the only dine in we can get for the next four hours.”

“We’re in the middle of freaking nowhere,” Laurent yawned again and stretched himself. “It’s better than nothing.”

Damen pulled his hair up and reached for his jacket to look more decent. They had wear their thinnest shirt and threw away their jackets to the back seat. It was hot in the car, and even though they prepared a container full with the fuel, they wanted to preserve the gas, so, no air conditioner for now. Laurent didn't bother to grab his jacket; he just grabbed his wallet. Together, they exited the car, locked it, and walked to the McDonald’s.

It was when Laurent opened the glass door, when the warm smell of grease hit their noses, they realised that they were hungry. The jelly-beans and the snacks were not enough. After some times, Damen refused to chew more jelly-beans and Laurent grew tired of Pringles. But it didn’t matter now that they had found a proper meal for them to dig in.

There was only a single person in the counter; a part timer with dark circles under her eyes. She didn’t perk up when Damen and Laurent made their way to the counter; it was almost like she didn’t want them to come at all.

Beside the tired-looking part timer, there were only two people in the room. Each person claimed the each corner of the room; the first one wearing a too large jumper and scribbling furiously into a book in front of him, the second one was sleeping with his mouth open.

And now there was them, standing awkwardly in front of the counter and staring at the menu.

“Uh, what do you want, Laurent?” Damen's voice was hoarse. It sounded oddly loud in the muted silence of that place.

“Anything.”

Damen scratched his head. “Well, okay, so we’ll take two double cheese burger with extra—”

“I’ll be over there.” Laurent said and already walking away before Damen could reply. He knew Damen would order their usual.
He sat on one of the empty chairs, propping his head on his arm, and waited for Damen silently. Above him, one of the bright lamp flickered. Laurent took out his phone and hoping for the free wi-fi connection, but apparently they didn’t have one. Sighing, Laurent thought longingly of the one McDonald’s near their university with a very fast wi-fi connection.

Damen came back a while later, with a tray in his hand, and two large burgers, two sodas, and three packs of potato chips. Laurent couldn’t help but feel a little bit relieved. Sitting alone in an unfamiliar McDonald’s was kind of creeping him out. Not to mention that it was midnight. Somehow he could feel the scribbling person’s eye was staring on him. His scratching had stopped. When Damen approached the table, Laurent could hear the person’s began to write again.

“We should buy a few more for later,” Laurent said, trying to be calm and unaffected. He was already unwrapping one of the burger.

“Do you want cold chips?” Damen raised his eyebrows.

“Better than another jellybeans,” Laurent replied with his mouth full.

“You say that now and I know I will be the one eating it afterwards.”

“We’ll see.” Laurent grinned.

They ate in silence. The only sound that filling the room was the sound of that person’s scribble on the paper and the low, ominous humming sound from the lamps on the ceiling. It almost like they could burst any time soon. When Laurent finished his burger and began to munched on his chips, the part timer stalked to the already clean window and began to wipe it. She was cleaning methodically, seemed like she did it very often. Now the sound of her wiping the window filled the room, and the scribbling stopped once again.

Damen got up from his seat. Laurent grabbed his wrist immediately, “Where are you going?”

Damen frowned. “To the toilet?”

Reluctantly, Laurent released Damen’s hand and nodded. Damen was still frowning when he walked away from the table. Laurent warily took out his phone again and placed it beside the tray. He browsed through his gallery just for keeping his mind busy.

It was easy to locate the toilet, for that there was a neon sign hanging on the ceiling, pointing out to the right direction. It was weird, Damen thought, for him to searched for the toilet sign. Usually he just walked on autopilot if he was on his usual McDonald’s near their university. But this was not his usual place, Damen thought again. This was miles away from their usual place. This was nowhere.

He washed his hand after he finished, and looked at his own reflection while scrubbing his fingers with water. He needed to cut his hair soon. It was already too long than his usual preference, and he didn’t really experting at styling his long hair. And also the stubble that started to grow. If only he could grab his toiletries now.

Damen wiped his hands on his jeans and walked back to the table. He walked pass a bunch of empty cups and wrapping papers on an empty table, and winced when he saw a mouse running and disappeared under the trash bin.

He saw Laurent staring to his direction. Come on, he mouthed. Let’s go.

 

Empty roads at night.

It was drizzling when it was Laurent’s turn to drive. It cooled down the temperature a bit, so Damen did not really complain. Also, the road was empty. Laurent wouldn’t run into another car, even though the road was wet. Damen was always criticising Laurent about his reckless driving. They often ran into another car before Damen saved the day, a.k.a. quickly took over the steering wheel. Damen was sweating cold, Laurent laughed his ass off and swore to the other car.

They slowly drove into the town. The welcome sign was grim under the moonlight. The street lamps were too far away from each other, leaving a dismal, hollow gap between them. Anything could appear at any time. Laurent tried to ignore those gaps and focused on the road instead.

Unfortunately there was nothing that he could focused on. They didn’t meet another car; there were no random wild animals that suddenly crossed the road. The down town seemed so far away. Laurent hummed a meaningless tune because Damen had turned off the radio earlier. They didn’t have CDs; their first mistake on a long road trip. Their radio caught nothing good on the signal. Despite of his humble-looking, Damen was the picky one in term of music. Laurent would listen to anything, as long as it was ear-friendly. But Damen. He could barely tolerate Halsey.

“Halsey is good,” Laurent had commented one day, somewhere in the middle of a highway.

“It’s too spiky for my ear.”

“What do you mean too spiky? It doesn't make any sense.” Laurent laughed. His tone was mocking, but Damen knew him too well to be offended. Besides, he was used to this kind of mockery.

But now Laurent got nothing to say. Either he was too tired or too focused to the road in front of him. Damen chose the latter.

“Hey, look, a goat.”

“You’re lying,” Laurent immediately replied. Damen barked a laugh.

Damen lowered the window. The chilly night air hit them; it brushed Damen’s sweaty hair. He would wash them once they had found a cheap hotel in this town. He missed his minty shampoo. Damen turned and looked at Laurent’s hair; it was as smooth as ever. Damen was a little bit jealous. He sighed.

“What?”

“Did you use magic for your hair?” Damen asked.

Laurent groaned. “Really? A pick up line?”

“No, I’m just saying,” Damen snorted. “Look at my hair. It’s greasy already, and it was just three days from my last shampooing. Look at yours,”

Damen reached to feel Laurent’s hair. It was shorter than Damen’s, but long enough to make the curls rested on the nape of Laurent’s neck. Laurent cut it short and messy on Damen’s request. It was more to a dare than a request, Damen didn’t actually think Laurent would do the dare. The day Laurent stormed in to the hairdresser’s shop, Damen was afraid that he will ruin Laurent’s good look. ‘I can rock every style,’ Laurent had said. And, alas, he did. Damen couldn’t stop staring for the rest of the day.

“I have blessing,” Laurent smirked from behind the wheel. He might or might not leaned a bit to Damen’s touch.

“I wish you could get us into town quicker,” Damen huffed. “I want to shower so bad.”

“Challenge accepted.”

“Laurent, no.”

The blond man laughed. He looked sideways, glancing at Damen and grinned. “Just kidding. I don’t trust myself to race at times like this.”

“Race who?”

“The ghosts.”

Damen snorted. He was back watching the roads and trees passing by.

Laurent glanced sideways, he saw Damen sticking his cheek to the window, his eyes followed the movement of trees vaguely. Part of Laurent felt bad, for dragging Damen with him, for pulling Damen into his own crisis and confusion. But Damen had agreed, and Laurent trusted him to speak up whenever he felt uncomfortable, so Laurent averted his glance back to the poorly illuminated road.

After a dozen or more trees, eventually they reached the town. It was a small one; tiny neon boxes from the shops lit the road, along with the street lamps; still too far away from each other. There were few cars passing by, more of them parked on the street side. Even though there were lamps and neon boxes, the town still seemed dark. There was nobody on the pavement.

Damen gestured Laurent to find a cheap hotel. Laurent followed the main road; turning right, and left, and left, and left—

“Laurent, let’s go back to the main road,” Damen suggested, his voice unsure.

“I got this,” Laurent drove forward, still.

“No, you don’t,” Damen unlocked his phone, googling for a place where they could spend the night. Their car was okay, but Damen wanted to wash his hair so bad.

Laurent didn’t reply. He drove and drove while Damen struggled with his phone. Laurent silently hoped Damen found something on Google though.

Their fight was always started like this. Laurent was too stubborn to began with, and Damen would give up and shut his mouth. When Laurent was proven that he was indeed screwed, Damen took over the case with a silent gaze that said ‘I told you so’. There was one time that Damen finally snapped, and that time Laurent was the one who shut up. It was something. Laurent felt something after that incident.

Laurent tried to control himself since that.

He slowed down. Damen didn’t notice.

“Damen?”

“Yes?”

“I kind of found something.”

 

Your friend’s living room at 5 A.M.

Jord was alone. He was asleep in his bedroom, all cosy and snug under his comforter, unaware of the world outside his room (though the world was asleep with him too). His cat didn’t come home tonight; her dinner was left unattended in the kitchen. But Jord didn’t worry; Anastasia knew her way inside through the cat-door, or his opened window.

Jord had expected Anastasia to come around midnight or early in the morning, but he had not expected Laurent to banged on his door at three in the morning.

“You know where’s where, I’m going back to sleep,” Jord said after letting Laurent and Damen in. He was quite annoyed, but mostly because his sleep had been disturbed. No hard feeling.

“Thank you very much, Jord,” Damen looked apologetic.

Jord waved his hand, “Don’t worry much, Damen. You know you two are always welcomed here. Though I’d expect you to come in daylight.”
Damen grinned. “Things are, uh, complicated.”

“It’s always been complicated with you two,” Jord raised his eyebrows. He looked at Damen who stood awkwardly in the middle of his living room. Damen looked dark.

“Thank you, Jord, really.” Damen said again instead of offering explanation. Jord laughed. If he noticed, he brushed it off with the laugh.

“Just don’t be too loud.” Jord winked and he disappeared to his room.

Damen sagged down onto the long sofa. He scratched his stubble. Laurent might or might not planned this, but it was hard to tell. At least they didn’t have to search for a place to sleep for tonight. Or maybe tomorrow as well. It depended on what Laurent had in mind. Damen sighed.

He stared at the bathroom door. Laurent had called dibs before Damen could say anything. Damen closed his eyes and waited. Jord’s living room felt cosy with the dim light. They had been on Jord’s house before, but Damen definitely didn’t remember about this sofa. Damen’s body was perfectly snug on it. He was very close to sleep.

“It’s your turn,” Laurent appeared. He tapped Damen’s nose softly until the taller man opened his eyes. They were reddish. “Your toiletries are already inside. Your change is on your bag, beside the door. Damen, Damen, wake up.”

Damen yawned a thank you and kissed Laurent’s cheek before he went to the bathroom. He was blinded for a moment; the lamp inside was too bright compared to the living room. He felt sleepy; Jord’s sofa was making it worse. Now he didn’t really care about his hair any longer.

Damen did a very quick shower; shampooed his hair, brushed his teeth, washed his face; and changed into a cleaner clothes. After shoving the dirty clothes inside his bag, Damen walked slowly to the guest room. Laurent was already inside, of course, sitting at the end of the bed and looking at the window. He didn’t waver when Damen entered the room and closed the door. The lamp was off. Laurent’s figure was shun by the street lamp outside the house. His expression was unreadable.

After setting his bag beside the night stand, Damen climbed in under the comforter. “Laurent.”

Laurent didn’t say anything, but he carefully slipped himself beside Damen. He adjusted his head, snuggling to Damen’s side, inhaling the soap and Damen’s neck. Laurent hated this particular soap; the smell was too candy-ish, Laurent preferred a natural one. Later he would buy a new one and got rid of this.

Damen was heavy with sleep, but Laurent was yet to close his eyes. “Do you think we should be like Jord?”

“What d-do you mean like Jord?” Damen yawned. He looked down at Laurent’s light hair; from his angle, Damen couldn’t see Laurent’s face.

“Oh, I don’t know. Having a permanent house. Settling down. Adopt a cat.” Laurent made invisible circles on Damen’s stomach.

“Do you even like cat,” Damen huffed. Laurent made an incomprehensible sound that Damen now knew meant ‘answer-the-goddamn-question’. Damen coughed. “Do you want to?”

Laurent looked up and caught Damen's eyes. There were dark circles under them; the dimness of the room made it darker than they actually were. Damen's stare was heavy; Laurent didn't know whether it came from the sleepiness or weariness. He wanted to cry somehow.

“I don’t know.” He mumbled.

Damen let out a long breath. He slung his free hand to Laurent and held him cosily. Laurent could feel him smiled on his hair; planted a long, breathy kiss on top of Laurent’s head. Damen didn’t say anything in return. Laurent waited, and waited, and his mind began to rethink what he had said before—

“Have you find your, what is it, your goal?” Damen’s voice was muffled by Laurent’s hair.

“I don’t even know what I searched for.”

“I will wait,” Damen’s tone was final, but not unkindly. “I can wait. Waiting is not hard.”

But waiting is boring, Laurent continued in his head. When he planned this long-ride trip, Laurent thought that Damen would be by his side until the end. After their third fight on the third town, Laurent was forced to admit that he was scared. Scared of his future, scared of his past, scared of what would wait for him when he finally got the courage to go back home, scared for the thought that Damen could leave any time he wanted.

Besides, Laurent's invisible circles turned into something else shapeless, he didn't know what he was waiting for. It was just a thoughtless, impulsive act he had done shortly after their graduation from university. He wanted to be free; he wanted to feel how if his uncle’s chain didn’t bind him; he wanted to know if it was just him and Damen against the world.

He proposed the trip, Damen agreed, as he had always agreed to whatever Laurent planned, and after one week of not-planning, they hit the road.
The thought had been lurking in the back of Laurent's head, actually. Mostly he just ignored it and didn't want to acknowledge it, but Jord's house made him thinking.

The image of Damen slept soundly on the couch came back to Laurent. He wanted that. By that he meant Damen, and the couch, and instead of Jord's house, it was their house.

Laurent was silent for a long time, but he didn’t stop drawing invisible shape to Damen’s stomach.

“Come on, it’s very late.” Damen said. “We need our energy for tomorrow.”

“You mean for today’s morning,” Laurent mumbled.

“Yeah, that works the same, too.”

Laurent felt Damen’s warm hand slipped under his shirt, it acted like a hook that bound Laurent and the world, and Damen. He forced himself to sleep.

Jord was gone when they woke up at day light. The sticky note on the fridge said that he was gone for work, and that he apologised for not preparing a decent breakfast for them, but there was a coffee brewing in the coffee machine, and Laurent was more than thankful for that. He let Damen sleep a little bit more, and wandered to the kitchen alone. That was how he found Jord’s note. He greeted Anastasia who had sneaked in some time after their arrival last night; Laurent meant to pat her head, but Anastasia wriggled herself out of Laurent’s touch and ran to the guest room. Laurent had left the door open.

Sighing, Laurent poured a cup of coffee for himself and plopped down to the sofa where Damen had fallen asleep last night.

Some minutes later, he heard Damen shrieked from the bedroom. Laurent didn’t bother to check up on him.

“Why you left the door open, fuck,” was the first thing Damen said when he spotted Laurent on the couch, drinking coffee for god’s sake. “She sat on my nose and I was dreaming about we’re on an amusement park and stuff and suddenly I cannot breathe—”

Laurent drifted off. Damen’s complain was nothing but a muted sound. Laurent was half joking when he said, “Let’s go for real.”

“—and that goddamn cat was purring —what?”

“Let’s go for real,” Laurent looked at his coffee. It was no longer steaming. He said it firmer now. “To the amusement park.”

Damen was stunned. He was not yet fully awake and Laurent already attacked him. But he was beaming, because, no pun intended, his dream came true.

Laurent, no longer staring at his coffee, watched Damen smiling, with his bed hair and crumpled t-shirt, eyes still dopey because of the sleep.

“Yes, yes, let’s go,” Damen’s smile grew even wider as the thought of amusement park flashed in his mind. “I will go take a shower and we have to eat first, we can look for cheap fast-food restaurant on the way there. Have you taken a bath?”

Laurent found himself beaming too, matching the look at Damen’s face. “I have.”

“You monster,” Damen snorted without edge. “I’ll be off washing myself, then,” he saluted and disappeared back to the guest room.

Anastasia stalked out of the room, her eyes directed at Laurent, and somehow he felt like he was judged.

 

Last stop.

Here they were at last. Laurent gazed to the high gate of the amusement park. It was painted bright with primary colours, and decorated with swirls of ribbons. The golden lion ornament on the top of the gate was like it was out of fantasy children’s book, but he had nothing to against that. It was almost sweet, even. Laurent felt the reminiscence of his childhood; not his own, but coming from the books he had read as a child.

Laurent felt Damen’s hand on his, clasping even tighter as they walked near to the ticketing booth. Damen bought two adult tickets for them, and after they got the ticket on their wrist, they were ready to go.

Laurent had managed to snatch a map from the ticket booth, now he held it out and studied all the rides and the attractions. “Where do you want to go?”

“The roller coaster.”

“Of course,” Laurent rolled his eyes. “But we just eat, so I suggest something lighter first, and then we can go to the roller coaster at the end.”

“At the end it should be the wheel, of course,” Damen stated like it was really obvious. “The Ferris wheel.”

“Like a freaking cliché teenage film,” Laurent agreed, but he didn’t mean it. But when Damen said nothing, he stared at him. “Really?”

“Well, that was the part when Anastasia choked me with her fur,” Damen shrugged. “I mean, if it bothers you, we can not go, it’s all right—”

“No, yes, of course we can go,” Laurent went back to his map. “Let’s go to the carousel first, maybe?”

“Lead the way, Sweetheart.”

It might be not the Disneyland, but they were having a great time. They didn’t follow the guide the map had suggested for them, instead they went wherever they like. They both agreed to exclude haunted house from their visiting list, but Damen secretly felt the Mirror Room was way more terrifying. He had a impression that Laurent felt the same when they both awkwardly suggest that they should sit down for a while for ice cream right after they managed to get out from the maze.

Laurent sneakily took a spoon of Damen’s chocolate mint ice cream, Damen stole Laurent’s marshmallow on his ever-traditional strawberry one. They laughed over something silly; they took a ton of pictures of each other, that included a lot of silly candid photos and blurry ones; they were holding hand all the time; they were happy. For a while Laurent didn’t want to think about anything else except the bright grin Damen had given him after their roller coaster ride. Even though it was followed by Damen’s green face and a not-so-short trip to bathroom nearby, the buzz in Laurent’s heart was as warm as the first time they parked the car on the parking lot. He patted Damen’s shoulder worriedly when they sat down after the bathroom trip, but it didn’t ruin their moment. He could do this forever, if it was with Damen.

That was why Laurent had decided, “After this we’re going back home.”

They were finally seated on their Ferris wheel cubicle after a long queue line. As they slowly made their way to the top, Laurent fidgeted and he decided to just spill it out. Damen didn’t appear to be shocked as Laurent had predicted him to be. He was simply answered with an ‘ok’ and smiled. He looked somehow relieved.

Despite of the spacious room inside the cubicle, Laurent and Damen sat side by side, squeezed in the small bench like there was no space left. The sun was not yet setting when they were halfway to the top, so when they were exactly on the top of the wheel, they got a sunset view. The yellow light flooded on them, it made Laurent’s hair brighter even more. They didn’t kiss at the top; they remained seated, Laurent rested his head on Damen’s chest, Damen’s on top of Laurent’s head. Damen rubbed his thumb over Laurent’s knuckle soothingly, and for a while Laurent believed that they would be fine.

Half an hour later, they were back on the road. But this time they headed backwards. This time they had somewhere to be their destination; not only a random selection of place chosen by closing Damen’s eyes and blindly tap the map on his phone. This time they were heading home; back to the starting point.

It might be influencing the mood inside the car for a while, because after they exited the amusement park area, Laurent went silent. He turned on the radio and listened to whatever station came up first. It was tomorrow's weather report.

Damen was behind the wheel; he glanced to Laurent’s direction repeatedly.

“Hey, we are still far enough for us to change direction,” Damen softly said after they filled up the tank. Damen had bought a lot of sweets and Pringles, and used the restroom, but Laurent remained dazed off on his seat. The radio now was playing oldie songs.

That caught Laurent’s attention. “I want to go back,” he said sharply.

“Have you found your goal, then?” Damen asked curiously.

Laurent’s gaze went back to the dashboard. “I don’t know, I am not sure, but I have a hunch.”

Damen beamed like it was the only answer he had been waiting for.

“It will be okay,” Damen searched for Laurent's hand and squeezed it. He glanced at Laurent. “We will be fine.”

Laurent gnawed at the sentence. “Will you be there for me?”

“Of course,” Damen stated, his eyes widen. He tore his gaze from the road. “Of course, Laurent, do you think I'll leave you?”

Laurent stared down at their linked hand. “Because,” he mumbled, “because you said that you would. You would, at some point. You said that I can do better by myself, and that you are a hindrance for me, and you said all that with a foul mood, you seemed very angry with me, and—“

“Wow, wow, hold on,” Damen startled. “When exactly I said those?”

“Our fight on the third town we visited,” Laurent admitted, mumbling. “Watch the road. You are driving.”

If Damen could scratch his not-itchy hair, he would, but his hand were occupied with Laurent and the steering wheel. He let out a frustrated groan instead, and tighten his hand that held Laurent’s when he sensed him about to snatch his hand away.

“You know I didn’t mean it, Laurent.” Damen pointed out. “We were both tired from the trip. It was just my exhaustion talking.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Well, did I leave you, then?”

Damen couldn’t help to glance sideways to Laurent, who stared at him intensely, so Damen raised his eyebrows as if he repeated his question.

“You don’t.”

“Damn right,” Damen’s smile grew. “When I said I will wait at Jord’s place, I mean it. I will wait no matter how long you need to be ready for our relationship. I will wait until you are ready to come home with me; to call me home,” he soothed Laurent’s hand. “You have told me how your uncle was, and I understand that you can’t trust people that easily again. So. I will wait.”

“But you are home,” Laurent puzzled. “You think I just let random people drive me until late in the night? Do you think I will let myself fall asleep in a car with a random stranger drives it to an unknown destination?”

“That’s what I am saying,” Damen grinned. “Do you think I will just leave the person I love so much over some petty quarrel?”

Laurent didn’t answer. He didn’t answer for a long time, and Damen let him.

 

Epilogue.

The thing was, Laurent was scared. He was scared of stability, because he didn’t have the concept of a stable life in his dictionary. His only role model of stable life was his uncle, and the fact that his uncle was perfectly ruining Laurent’s early life kind of made him the perfect example of how a perfect life can made people become atrocious. Laurent didn’t want that. That was why he set up this long trip: to avoid his responsibility.

But when he and Damen finally arrived home; at Damen’s messy flat instead of Laurent’s; when they brought their luggage out and just put it randomly in front of the TV; when they showered together in silence because of their exhaustion; when they hastily changed the dusty bed sheet and replaced it with the new one; when they exchanged lazy kisses, and all wrapped up warmly in the bed, their bed; when Laurent heard Damen’s soft snore on the crook of his neck, and Laurent himself couldn’t yet fall asleep, Laurent felt like he would like to be in this kind of stable life. He didn’t really grasp the concept of home but if this was home, he would like to stay forever.

Him and Damen would wake up at some point tomorrow, Laurent thought, and they would take a shower together just like last night, and they would have breakfast, and started to clean Damen’s dusty flat. Laurent would move in at some point, if Damen let him (he was certain that Damen would, though); and then Laurent would get up every morning to Damen’s adorable bed head every day. Of course they would have fights, but knowing that Damen wouldn’t leave him; that they could make up and apologises; made Laurent’s stomach fluttered. It was so naive of him, Laurent realised, but he would take it. He would take it for now.

“Sleep, Laurent,” Damen mumbled at his neck. Laurent didn’t realise how long Damen had awaken. “I can hear you thinking, it’s too loud at this hour.”

And Laurent obeyed; he obeyed for that he knew that Damen wouldn’t take advantage of his obedience. Laurent smiled to Damen’s damp hair, placed a kiss there, and closed his eyes.