Staying busy while Eliot is on tour shouldn’t be hard, Quentin thinks. He has a life. He has things to do. The month will fly by.
He wrestles with the online interface for submitting the required textbook lists for his fall semester classes, which has a chatbot that keeps fighting him on the kinds of books he wants to require. He clicks and clicks and clicks. And thinks about Eliot’s hands.
He walks the kids to science camp, ignoring their protests about his workout shorts (“You’re only embarrassing yourself, Da!”), and then runs his habitual long loop through the park. And thinks about Eliot’s thighs.
He sits through three hours of faculty meetings about long-range departmental planning. And thinks about Eliot’s sound-asleep face, and his just-waking face, and his yawning, whole-body stretching good-morning face.
In his closet-sized subterranean office, lit by a sliver of window through which he can divine the weather based chiefly on the condition of the footwear passing by, he replies to emails about fellowship candidates and committee assignments and proposed curriculum requirement amendments. And thinks about Eliot’s boots on the tile bathroom floor, piled together with his own brown leather chukkas, and then Eliot’s pruney fingers in the bath, interlaced with his own pruney fingers.
At home, getting the kids fed, negotiating the suitability of leftover roast parsnips for tomorrow’s packed lunches (“Cold, Da? Have ya lost yer mind?”), rescuing a pile of Rupert’s sheet music from an unplanned dip in the bath, unearthing Jane’s taekwondo uniform from a mountain of clean but wrinkled laundry, he doesn’t think about Eliot.
Sitting at the desk in his bedroom with a cup of tea and a plate of olives and cheese, a playlist Margo sent him streaming quietly through the Bluetooth speakers, he thinks about Eliot.
He thinks, this time, about Eliot’s mouth. He feels a flush rise under his collar. He isn’t used to letting himself dwell on thoughts of Eliot’s mouth. Not like he has been these past two weeks. Flashes come to him all the time, sure—in all these years, they never stopped coming, vivid and bright. He used to think Huh! Isn’t memory a funny thing. That was ages ago. As if all memories were equal and should fade with time. When a flash like this came to him, he’d make himself label it an amusing random fluke of his brain chemistry, and then he’d push past it, mentally skipping ahead to some other random and ideally G-rated track in his brain.
Some memories of Eliot’s mouth fill him with misery, still to this day. At some point Quentin had begun gauging how drunk Eliot was based on the bearing of his mouth. Eliot’s mouth had its own infinite vocabulary of wordless expressions that, when sober, Eliot deployed to devastating effect. A tongue touched to the ridge of his top teeth. A puff of air held in by pursed lips. A grin that started on one side and spread across the whole of his face like a ray of sun. When he’d had a drink or two, he was freer with his droll comments, more quick to laugh.
But when Eliot drank to excess, his mouth went slack and lost all its verbal and nonverbal eloquence. It was reduced to a fleshy pink gap in his face, drained of beauty. Drained of most of its beauty. Those memories hurt. To see Eliot’s face shut down was like seeing him make a blunder that should have embarrassed him, given the persona he took such care to cultivate. And it had felt, to Quentin, like abandonment—like Eliot had wandered away in the middle of a conversation. And then he’d eventually come to understand Eliot wasn’t wandering away so much as being stolen away by a monster called addiction, and that there was nothing anyone could do, not unless the part of Eliot he knew was buried deep somewhere could fight its way to the surface to say hey, I’m alive in here. I’m alive and I want out.
The other memories, though. So many, many more memories—rich and tangible, impossibly well preserved—are prisms of light in Quentin’s life, and he can finally stop pretending otherwise. The way Eliot used his mouth as an extra appendage sometimes, clamping down and tugging and chasing heat across Quentin’s skin in moments when he needed to do more touching than his two hands and all his limbs could manage. Eliot’s breath hot in his ear, lips not even grazing skin, making profoundly filthy suggestions in a low whisper that seared straight into Quentin’s brain. The strong rough flat of Eliot’s tongue and the slick underside of that tongue torturing him, stroking him, laying waste to every last boundary, searching always for yet another way in, both of them trembling and vulnerable.
He thinks about the simple slow drag of Eliot’s lips across his knuckles on nights when they streamed a horror movie on the couch, hands entwined—a self-soothing gesture Eliot didn’t even seem to notice he was doing. Quentin had noticed, though. Noticed it, felt it. Memorized it, apparently.
Then there were the secret shapes Eliot’s lips made against Quentin’s skin in the night: sighing smiles pressed to the back of his neck, gentle butterfly kisses across his shoulder blades when Eliot thought he was deep asleep.
Love had come so easily to them. It had come so easily, and so abundantly, Quentin had taken it for granted. If he’d ever bothered to consider it he would have said love was a faucet that flowed endlessly, one that would follow him wherever he went in life, with whatever partner he found himself with, and they’d both drink their fill. Not so. He knows better now.
Now Quentin opens a browser on his laptop and searches YouTube. There is a video, taken at Glastonbury two weeks ago, where Eliot’s mouth figures prominently. Well—that’s how Quentin sees it. Eliot is singing in the video, which is what he’s at Glastonbury to do, of course. His voice is honey with a touch of grit. Eliot’s body in the foreground is bathed in a spotlight and folded around his favorite guitar, writhing like a snake and sweating, and in the background is a giant screen on which a close-up of his face is displayed, his wide-open mouth three meters high, pixelated and distorted, but all Eliot. Probably people at the back of the 30,000-person crowd can see his molars. When he relaxes his mouth again into a slack-jawed grin, closed eyes pointed skyward, he looks totally transported. It’s not his orgasm face, but it’s close. His hair is plastered to his skin.
Why am I looking at this like a creep, he thinks, when I can do myself one better? He opens FaceTime and calls Eliot. The next best thing to in-the-flesh, and his alone.
Eliot’s face goes out of frame for a minute while he repositions his laptop on the room service tray. He’s got the routine down by now, after two weeks of doing this at some point every day. Hold on, I need to find my light, he jokes. His hair is damp and he’s eating something bright orange and crispy out of a silver bowl. Cheetos.
“Hey, boo,” Eliot says, then grins. He’s been trying out endearments. Quentin can feel himself blushing, so he knows Eliot will keep this one in rotation. “I was just wondering if it was late enough to call you.”
Quentin tries not to focus on his own face, tired and drawn, in the corner of the screen. “Mm. Yeah, kids are finally settled. Glad I caught you. I have like a 30-minute window before I sleep the sleep of the dead. How are you?”
“Hornier than I’ve ever been in my life, thanks for asking,” Eliot says, brightly. “Counting down the days and hours until I can make you make that noise again, you know the one? It sounds like if a lion could whimper? Oh, you like that—the lion thing. Noted. But anyhow, you know all this. How’s your day?”
“Same. Well—different noise, I guess. I miss you.” He grins, enjoying how easy this is with Eliot. “I, um. Did you ever have that thing where you convinced yourself sex must just get a little less great as you get older?”
“Oh, totally. I had a thousand explanations: I was drunk, I was hungover, I was sober, I was tired. Never that it wasn’t you. Turns out . . . it’s you. Or us.”
“It’s not less great after all!”
“Arguably more great. It’s all I can think about. It’s really doing a lot for my stage presence.”
“Yeah, I can see that. Somebody’s, uh, video from Glastonbury was playing in the student union today. It’s on YouTube.”
“Hah. I should make sure the University pays a licensing fee! It’s all for you, you know, everything I do on stage. Did it work? Did I turn you on in the middle of the student union?”
“Mm. Honestly I think a video of you reading the dictionary would do it.”
“I know how much you love the dictionary. Seriously, though, what are you wearing? Is it soft? Undo a few buttons, will you? Make me say words like clavicle, boo. I’ll do it, I’m not even bluffing.”
“I mean I guess I could—”
“This isn’t hotel wifi, for the record, it’s a secure VPN. Encrypted. Oh, oops, hold that thought.” Eliot looks up at a distraction off screen.
Margo’s head pokes into the frame, her hand covering her eyes. “Hey professor. Love you. I’m just passing through.”
“Uh. Love you too, Margo.”
She turns her head to Eliot. “Lobby, twenty minutes. I’m putting your do-not-disturb on the door, so I don’t regret having a key. Next time do it yourself.” Then she’s gone, as quick as she appeared.
“Sorry about that,” Eliot says. “She makes a good point. She always thinks we’re sexting even when we’re just regular texting.”
“Sometimes we are sexting.”
“Sometimes we are.”
They spend a moment just looking at each other fondly, and Quentin wonders if this is normal—how hot it makes him when Eliot just looks at him.
“I fucking miss you,” Eliot says.
“Where are you now?”
“Hmm. Munich. It was a travel day. Did some press. Ran through tech with a new crew. We play tomorrow night, then onward to Prague. We’re supposed to go eat Vietnamese food in a bit.”
“You can get that in Munich?”
“When Margo is determined enough. But yes. Mexican food, not so much. Not anywhere in Europe. I would kill for a proper taco.”
Quentin laughs. “God, I know. I was served green beans in my salsa once. I’ll go with you to New York one day and any random taco stand needs to be the first stop we make.”
A slow, dazed grin crosses Eliot’s face. “I think we can do that.”
“What’s that look? What did I say?”
“Oh, nothing. I just like the idea of traveling with you. Remember how we used to dream?”
They did used to dream, and there isn’t anything soft or amusing to say about the things that got in the way of their dreams.
Quentin just says: “You’re traveling now.”
“This isn’t traveling,” Eliot says. He swivels his head around the hotel room, which based on the part visible to Quentin looks a lot like any other hotel room. Eliot has told him he sometimes doesn’t see anything but the bus, the venue, and a hotel in a given city. “Well, I shouldn’t complain. This was a whole other dream.”
“You’re a rock star.”
“I’m a rock star. It’s Todd’s dream come true.”
“It’s his lucky decade.”
“It really is,” Eliot says, but then his mouth grows serious. “I can be real about this. The crowds and the tours are exhausting, so you’ll hear me complain, but it’s not sincere. I get paid to make music. It’s a dream come true. It’s a big one.”
Eliot picks up a Cheeto and stirs the air with it like he’s looping the conversation back to a previous thread. “I just—I thought all the dreams we had together were trashed forever, you know? I can’t believe I get to have some of this again. With you.”
“I think I know what you mean.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“It’s just. How are you not more worried?”
“About which part?”
“I don’t know. How far apart we are right now. What you imagine my rock-star life is like. How different it might be from yours.”
“You’re eating Cheetos in your bathrobe. That’s disturbingly relatable.”
Eliot throws a Cheeto at the lens. “I’m not trying to say you should worry. I don’t think that at all. I just know this is a lot of new to get used to and I want us to . . . not be surprised by the bumpy patches.”
“I can see that. I’m not immune to freakouts. I’ll have one at some point. Or many, at many points, probably. I could ask you why you’re not more worried about my lifestyle. Two kids and all. A city you’ve never lived in. My intense regimen of therapy, meds, and exercise for managing anxiety.”
“Everyone has that these days. Not the kids, necessarily, and I don’t mean to minimize them. But I’m trying to be more mindful than worried.” He holds up a book from his nightstand. It has a garish cover that reads Dating a Divorced Dad. “Todd bought this for me in the airport bookstore.”
Quentin winces and at the same time his heart clenches. “Is it useful?”
“There’s a full chapter entitled ‘Be Like a Cat, Not Like a Dog’—which does not inspire confidence. Is there something better you would recommend?”
“Well, I don’t know what the advice is for being in a relationship with someone like me, but I can link you a couple of articles I think are useful about raising kids after divorce, so you’ll have some context for my decisions about, like, when and how I’d have you meet them.”
“I like this plan. There are no books about reuniting with your first love who is now a divorced dad in a different country. With, I gather, a hetero but accepting coparent.”
“She is that.”
“I’m very teachable. And not a lot of people know this, but rock stars that survive past the age of 27 tend to be very reliable. I’m basically a financially secure self-employed tradesman who can pick and choose his projects. We’ll have a whole stand-alone, in-person, capital letters Conversation about this, because I’m not fucking around about it.”
“You don’t have to persuade me, you know. But I appreciate you speaking up about it.”
“And no punting it until after the honeymoon period is over, either. How does a honeymoon period work when it’s the second time around? I’ll see you in eleven more days. Does the clock start then or did it start two and a half weeks ago?”
“Oh, I don’t believe in time limits on honeymoon periods.”
Eliot, on screen, opens and closes his mouth, then starts again. “You are the most delightful combination of anxious and optimistic.”
“It’s—.” Quentin squints, formulating a thought. “So, how much do you know about what I do? I promise this isn’t a test like ‘what color are my eyes’ but I don’t know how up to speed you are.”
“Brown, my beauty. And I know you’re a very distinguished—”
“Entry-level professor. Of English lit. Or of comparative lit?”
“Assistant professor. Of fantasy lit.”
“Quentin. What? That’s not a thing. We joked about it in college, but—”
“It’s a thing here. We created it. It’s the only place in the world that offers this course of study, and I’m one of the people who teaches it.”
“This explains so much.”
“So, you understand that dream world I’m living in is factual truth at this point.”
“How ya like me now, bitches.”
“First of all, I need to pause and say I’m tremendously proud of you and not at all surprised that you accomplished this. You’re living your literal fantasy, and that fantasy is to be immersed in fantasy all day. So meta. But—wait, I’m losing the thread. What does this have to do with us?”
“Well, um. In a lot of ways, there aren’t two worlds—a real world and a fantasy world. So much of the real world is actually held together by a sort of magic we call by other names. Social contracts, for example. Ideas like dignity and inalienable rights. Those only exist because people believe in them. So why can’t we make other things real by believing in them?”
“Yeah, religion, too.”
“No, I meant in the sense of an exclamation. Jesus.”
“Too much? This video chat went in a very nerdy direction, I suppose.”
“More like I’m simultaneously turned on and super scared I’m going to fuck this up. But—keep talking. I’ll be fine. It’s not intimidating at all that you just suggested we can make our life a living fantasy by believing in ourselves.”
“Is that how it sounded? See, this is the thing. The only time a fantasy just lands in our laps is when it’s a book. In reality, what we might call fantastical elements are things we create actively, by the stories we tell ourselves about why a thing is happening, and by questioning assumptions about what’s plausible.”
“Can you give me a for example?”
“Like, I don’t know, how about the idea that a first love can be a forever love?”
“That’s something you might—believe in?”
“I don’t automatically reject it as impossible just because I’ve read it in story books.”
Eliot goes silent for a moment. His bathrobed chest is heaving.
“Q. Do you have any days off this week—or even a single day? Can you meet me in Oslo on Friday? Or Copenhagen on Thursday?”
“Are you serious?”
“As death. It won’t be a proper getaway or anything because I’ll be working, but I hate the fact that I can’t be touching you right now. Or that I can’t, you know, be inside you in the next five minutes”
“Check your calendar? The record company owes us a thank-you since I started playing Closer again. They’ll fly you out. Only if it’s not disruptive, truly. I can see your pulse in your neck, by the way. Fuck, I wish I could kiss you right now.”
Quentin swallows. He knows his schedule without needing to look. “You know what? I can get away Thursday and Friday. The kids are going to Poppy’s mum’s with her. All I have is a committee meeting, which I would love a reason to miss.”
“You said mum just now. Fucking cute.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s what they say, so it’s what I say. Do you need to get going? Meet Margo?”
“She knows when she says twenty minutes I hear forty. And I don’t feel even close to done with this conversation. So you’ll come? I’ll have my hands on you in three days?”
“You’ll have your hands on me in three days.”
“What will I do to you first?” Eliot sets his bowl of Cheetos aside, swigs from a glass of water, and huddles his body closer to the lens. His eyes are bright and fierce. “Tell me.”
Quentin feels the temperature of the room change, his skin prickling from within. “Oh. As in?”
“I was, uh, thinking about . . .”
He hesitates. They haven’t don’t this before—not like this. “Um. Should we switch to a regular call?”
“Nuh-uh. Baby—all I need to see is your face. Can we do that? Your face is so fucking pretty right now. I love seeing what I do to you.”
“Okay, yeah.” Rasping, suddenly. He coughs to clear his throat. “Um. I was thinking all day about . . . your mouth.”
“My mouth? How hot my mouth gets for you when I put it on you? You like that?” This might be different from the sexting they’ve done to date, but Eliot somehow makes it feel easy—like nothing about it could possibly be awkward.
“Mm. Yeah.” He wets his own mouth without even thinking about it. Below the desk, he slips the waistband of his sleep pants down. His throat feels so flushed, he knows it has to be crimson. And he knows Eliot likes that. Eliot’s eyes are racing all over. He feels his face light up hot wherever Eliot looks. He wraps his hand around himself.
“That’s all I want. You know I love having your cock in my mouth, Q. Feeling the way you respond to me. Making you make those little noises. Are you getting hard right now? Thinking about me? My wet mouth?”
“I—yes. You know I am.”
“Fuck, yes. Make it good, okay?”
“El. Oh, God. You always make it so good for me.” He can feel his heart pounding in his ears, throbbing on the sensitive surface of his lips.
“I know you like it wet and sloppy. You turn me into a mess, you know. Choking on it. I can’t even help it. Feels so good.” Eliot’s voice is all over the place—pitching lower, chalky and hoarse. It makes Quentin’s cock go so much harder in his hand, and his face creases with want.
“Talk to me,” he says, and his own voice is barely more than a whisper. “I just need your voice. Wish I could feel it on my skin.”
“You will. You will, baby. You’re gonna feel it in your bones. Let me make it good for you.”
“Uhn. See what you do to me.” He thinks to look straight into the lens instead of at Eliot’s face on the screen. “All you.”
“Jesus, Q. Oh, Christ, you destroy me. Don’t look away. Don’t look away.”
For the next while, neither of them speaks a word. He keeps his gaze trained on the lens. He hears his own labored breathing and Eliot’s telltale gasps from across the continent.
He feels his control start to slip, his eyelids fluttering closed. “I can’t. Can’t. Too much.”
“It’s okay, baby. Anything you need.”
He knows Eliot is still watching, can hear him make that strangled noise of his, and he tumbles faster into a splintering release, his body juddering forward, Eliot’s name bursting out of his mouth.
When he lifts his head up again, panting, it’s just in time to see Eliot’s face as he comes with a throaty, low moan, his curls falling forward into his fluttering eyelashes.
“Q,” Eliot says, in a whisper now. He’s panting, too. “Fuck. What even. You’ve really never done that before?”
“You’re . . . you’re mine, you know.” Eliot says this like an afterthought, and his eyebrows shoot up after he says it, like he’s surprised himself, even. “I don’t know what that means. You’re just mine.”
Quentin finds that he’s smiling goofily, because he doesn’t know what it means either, but he can feel that it’s true.
“I guess I am,” he says. And then, “Good night, El.”