If you were to ask Casey what happened, he would tell you this story:
Shortly after The Divorce (it is important, in Casey’s stories, that you can hear the capitalization—he assigns emphasis to things, sometimes nouns, vaguely Germanic in his insistence on this appropriate apportioning of weight), he was staying at Danny’s. He was sleeping on Danny’s couch because that was the thing one did when one was undergoing a divorce. (He thought of The Divorce as something that had happened to him, in the way a serious illness or sudden accident might. It took him years to understand that it was also an event that he had caused.)
He was sleeping at Danny’s, his clothes spilling out of his suitcase, propped up on the armchair, so that when they wanted to watch television—which they did most nights after getting back from the studio—they had to sit next to each other on Danny’s couch. It wasn’t a large apartment, because it was Manhattan and Danny didn’t want to have a roommate, and so it wasn’t a large couch. They sat side by side, shoulders pressed together. Friendly. Companionable.
The Divorce made certain things possible that had not been possible before. It was now, for instance, permissible for Casey to want people other than Lisa; he was even allowed, under these new, strange, exciting but alarming rules, to pursue them.
He tried once or twice, half-heartedly. Women at bars seemed to sense The Divorce on him, like an unfortunate cologne, and veered away. He would end up going home with Danny, home to Danny, and they would sit on the couch, shoulder to shoulder, while Danny laughed his beer-deepened laughs. He seemed to laugh harder and longer when it was just the two of them, and when he’d been drinking.
Danny wasn’t seeing anyone. He’d ended a passionate but turbulent affair with a hard-edged young writer whose lacerating wit made Casey dread seeing her not long before. He seemed to have recovered from it nicely, and he wasn’t giving Casey a hard time about cramping his style. He wasn’t going home with anyone else. He went home to his own home, night after night after night, with Casey.
One night Casey screwed up his courage (what tattered flaps of it remained after The Divorce, which had taken his courage, his sense of humor, and most of his will to live) and put his hand on Danny’s thigh. This was not a calculated move in any meaningful sense, but he had been thinking about doing that or something like it for so long that he feared he’d become mired in inaction, cemented into place like the stump of a petrified tree.
He slid his hand up Danny’s thigh. Danny was still watching the television. Danny laughed and elbowed Casey, pointing to something, Casey couldn’t have said afterwards what. His brain was ringing with disbelief and disappointment and a lingering hard knot of hurt. The embarrassment, of course, was something else altogether.
At least Danny was going to pretend it hadn’t happened at all. They wouldn’t let it change them. One come-on, after all, was hardly the end of the world.
Casey kept sleeping on Danny’s couch, but he looked a lot harder for alternative options after that, and within a few weeks he was tucked into his new condo. Safe. Sanitized. Utterly alone.
By contrast, if you were to ask Dan, he’d tell you that: 1) Casey had always been a clueless moron when it came to dating, and 2) he had never expected to be on the receiving end of that cluelessness.
When they met, Dan was still a teenager, albeit for a very brief period of time. Casey, a couple of years older, seemed worlds more experienced. With time, Dan came to realize just how far down the garden path this impression had led him. Casey wasn’t merely inexperienced in a wide range of things. He was a dork. A huge, colossal, mega-dork. His dorkitudinousness was such that it could probably be seen from space.
Regrettably, Dan found it painfully endearing, and somewhere around Dallas he was eating Chinese food out of a carton across from Casey at the rickety card table where they wrote their scripts and the fact that he was in love with Casey hit him with the approximate voltage of a bolt of lightning. He sat there, chopsticks halfway to his mouth while dangling noodles lost their grip and fell. He stared blankly until Casey glanced up.
Casey still wore glasses then, big aviators that kept sliding down his nose until he pushed them back up with one finger like Dilton (which made Dan—Jughead? Oh, that didn’t seem good), and Casey looked at Dan over his dorky glasses and said, “You okay there?”
“Yeah,” said Dan. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He set the chopsticks down carefully. “Not sure about this Chinese food, though.”
“Don’t ralph.” Casey frowned. “We don’t have a back-up for you tonight.”
“You could do the whole show, you big baby. Anyway, I’m not going to.”
He didn’t, but it was a near thing.
If you asked Dan about that moment that was seared into Casey’s mind, vivid, preserved painfully for all eternity as the moment of his greatest romantic defeat—perhaps worse than, and certainly comparable to, the moment when Dana broke up with him for the third and final time—he would have had absolutely no idea what you were talking about.
“No,” he would say, “I’m pretty sure I would have noticed Casey copping a feel!”
Except, of course, he apparently hadn’t.
So that’s the state of our anchors: each unaware of the precise nature of the other’s feelings. And, because they are 20th-century men (21st, if you ask Dan, but Casey is quite certain that you can’t have a century with fewer than a hundred years), probably to a large extent out of touch with their own feelings.
“Hey, Casey,” said Dan.
“Is this going to be a waste of my time?”
Casey pushed away from the keyboard and spun to face him. “I’m in.”
“Jeremy and I are constructing a March Madness of celebrity attractiveness.”
“Sounds like a noble and worthy goal, although it is not, in fact, March.”
“That’s what I said.” Dan sat down on the edge of the couch. “Anyway, we’ve run into some technical difficulties.”
“What, your marker went dry?”
“Why did you assume we’re using a marker?”
“Look, if you’re making brackets, the only logical place to do it is that big easel in the conference room that has the butcher paper you flip back.” Casey made the flipping-paper-back gesture.
“Are you not using that?”
“No, we are, it’s just uncanny how much you and Jeremy think alike.”
“Is the problem somehow not your marker?”
“No, it is not. It is Natalie.”
“That sounds about right.”
Dan sighed heavily. “She thinks we need a bracket for men.”
“Well, is she playing?”
“She’s insisting on playing.”
“Then I think she’s right. It’s not sporting to only include female celebrities. Brackets are to the bitter end, my friend.”
“Very well. With your vote added to hers, I think Jeremy and I are defeated.”
“You certainly will be once Kim finds out about this.”
“You think she—”
Casey gestured outside their office to where Natalie was talking to Kim.
Dan put his face in his hands. “I’m going to hear so many opinions I don’t want to hear, Casey!”
“Natalie has many, many thoughts on the butts of prominent members of the celebrity class.”
“And Kim isn’t going to be shy about sharing hers, either.”
Casey snorted. “Sounds like you’ve dug yourself a hole, and while I would normally enjoy watching you try to dig yourself back out of it with no success whatsoever, it also sounds like I’m going to have to write most of this show while you’re pinioned by Natalie and Kim discussing butts.”
“Do you have to say it like that?”
Dan flung his hands into the air, but in the end, he had to return to the conference room. Jeremy was sitting in a chair with wheels slowly scooting further and further away from Natalie and Kim’s animated discussion, which had, unfortunately, attracted the attention of several other women from the office, as well as Dave, who was advocating loudly for Wesley Snipes.
“I think Keanu Reeves,” Dan began, but Natalie waved her hand at him over her shoulder in an impatient gesture and he let the geniuses do their work. For hours. At least he’d had the presence of mind to bring coffee.
The bracket, to no one’s surprise, ended up with Brad Pitt as the men’s champion and Gisele Bundchen as the women’s; something about Gisele being a supermodel, and Brad Pitt being “dreamy, yet inaccessible,” according to a slightly breathless Natalie. Jeremy was shooting her increasingly alarmed glances.
It continued to be hotly debated during commercial breaks throughout the show. Dana couldn’t understand why more women hadn’t voted for Robert Redford. “He’s old now, Dana,” said Kim with gentle love. “I’m not saying he couldn’t still get my number, but only because he’s famous.”
Chris, meanwhile, was loudly and repeatedly bringing up Mena Suvari, to which Elliot said, “Ew, the whole point is that she’s too young.”
Alyson muttered to the back of Casey’s head, “Angelina Jolie. Should have been Angelina Jolie.”
“She’s top ten,” Casey pointed out, but all that earned him was a frosty glare.
Danny said, “I’m not against Gisele. I think there were a lot of truly remarkable and excellent women on that list, but I also think it’s like the Olympics; minor factors can have a big impact on someone’s success or loss on any given day, and today was Gisele’s day.”
“That’s very deep, Danny, thank you,” said Casey. Danny flipped him off right before they were live again.
They had plans, after the show, to watch a B-movie marathon (or at least a small part of it before they’d have to sleep) at Danny’s house. The beer was tacitly understood. They were in the elevator down to the garage when Casey said, “A productive day all around.”
“Hey, it took us real work to rank everyone!”
“I’m not disputing that! I said it was a productive day.”
“Yeah, but you said it sarcastically.”
“I did not.”
“You did too.”
“I did not. You’re just mad they didn’t pick Keanu Reeves.”
“He was great in The Matrix and you know it!” (The remaining occupants of the elevator, as the doors opened onto the lobby, made their hasty escape.)
Casey laughed. “I don’t think that factored into the criteria, Danny.”
“What, you think Brad Pitt is sexier than Keanu Reeves?”
Casey raised his eyebrows. “Yes. I, and most of the world, think Brad Pitt is sexier than Keanu Reeves.”
“But that’s different!” Danny waved his hands in frustration as the elevator dinged and released them onto their level of the parking garage.
“You’re not qualified to judge sexiness!”
“You don’t—not in the same way!”
“Danny,” said Casey, a little gently, for fear Danny had perhaps gotten a concussion that had gone unnoticed in the general hubbub, “you know I do. I am.”
Danny stopped in his tracks. Casey, not anticipating that reaction, walked into him at full force, resulting in a collision that took several seconds to sort out.
“What?” said Danny in tones of frankly unwarranted astonishment. He’d turned to stare at Casey in what looked like surprise.
“I mean.” Casey shrugged. “Since that time I. You know.”
“You’re assuming I know a lot of things I appear to not, in fact, know!”
“The time I—” Casey attempted to mime sliding his hand up Danny’s thigh.
“The time you what?” roared Danny.
“We’re in a parking garage! Have a little care!”
“I’m going to murder you. I would strangle you with your tie if you were still wearing one, but as it stands, I’m just going to have to search this parking garage for a blunt instrument!”
“Can we at least get into your car before we have this discussion in public?”
“Fine!” yelled Danny, and stomped to his car. He had to lean over to unlock Casey’s door, which was, admittedly, a little anticlimactic.
Casey slid in and shut his door. “That’s better.”
“Now what the fuck are you talking about? What did you do that’s supposed to make me know something I don’t actually know?”
“Hit on you,” said Casey.
Danny’s face was a mixture of blank confusion and possible rage.
“I thought we weren’t going to talk about it!” Casey fidgeted nervously, fighting the urge to grab the handle on the car door. “I thought we were going to let it pass, unacknowledged, into the dark night of our friendship.”
“You… hit on me?”
“I got fresh.”
“Are you a time-traveler from 1950? You know what, don’t answer that. Casey. Case. When the fucking fuck did you get fresh with me?”
“After the divorce,” said Casey, who was feeling much less sure of himself. “When I was staying at your place.”
“All right. Okay. I’m going to need you to walk me through exactly what happened.”
“No. Knowing you, I’m going to need you to give me some kind of demonstration. Remember the time Dana thought she was making the crash and burn noise? I have a feeling this is like that, only for moves.”
“Fine.” Casey reached out, put his hand on Danny’s knee, and slid it up his thigh.
“Oh, my God,” said Danny faintly.
“And you ignored it, so I thought that was the plan!”
“Casey,” said Danny, “if you hit on me, if I had been aware that you were hitting on me, I would not have ignored it!”
“Oh.” Casey frowned down at his hand where it was still lingering, tantalizingly close to Danny’s inseam. “Hm.”
“Because I would have been into it,” said Danny. “And, in fact, if you were to make a similar move now, I would still be into it.”
“Oh. Oh!” Casey jerked his head up and found himself looking directly into Danny’s eyes, very close and very dark and much, much more scared than his voice sounded.
“If you,” Danny had to stop the clear his throat, “if you were still. Into it.”
In response, Casey squeezed Danny’s thigh. Danny made a very soft noise in the back of his throat, and his legs fell apart a little wider; Casey was suddenly, blindingly hot for it.
He was starting to lean in when Danny shut his eyes and bit his lip, then opened his eyes again and said, “We’re still in a parking garage.”
“Oh. Uh. So we are.”
“We should go back to my place.”
“And re-enact how that night should have gone,” said Danny, shifting uncomfortably in his jeans as Casey leaned back into his own seat. “Now that I know you were trying to hit on me. Good grief, Casey, do you have any idea how bad you are at hitting on people? Years! Years I spent not knowing you’d gotten fresh!”
He was starting the car as he spoke, backing out of the space. Casey always backed in to reduce the frustration associated with backing out, but Danny seemed to have it under control.
They didn’t talk much on the drive. Casey didn’t take his hand back.
When they got to Dan’s apartment, Casey followed him inside, and for a long, weird moment Dan wasn’t completely certain he hadn’t been hallucinating; it was so ordinary, Casey standing just inside the doorway, taking his coat off and hanging it up, the bedroom light Danny never turned off when he left for work threading a dull illumination along the baseboards.
Dan was opening his mouth to say something, anything, to break the tension when Casey touched him. Casey was looking down, at Dan’s hand, and taking it in his own. Dan breathed out through his nose, harder than he’d meant to. There was the quaking feeling in his stomach, butterflies, whatever. And that point of contact, where Casey was touching his hand, lifting it, felt—it felt like that first moment of waking up on vacation in Hawaii, when you realize that the air really does smell like that, it really is that warm and enveloping and perfect, and the waves on the beach aren’t very far away at all, and a bird you don’t recognize is trilling a song in the leaves of trees that are somehow greener than anywhere else you’ve ever been. The feeling of fresh, crisp sheets and sunlight waiting for you just outside the door.
Casey lifted Dan’s hand to his mouth and kissed it. It was courtly and old-fashioned and perfectly Casey.
Dan felt himself smiling. He was going to say something, he thought, make some sort of hushed intimate joke about what a dork Casey was. Instead, Casey lifted his head and looked at Dan intently, and the joke fell right out of his brain.
If he had been wondering (and he had been wondering) whether Casey had meant to make a move in a practical, no-frills kind of way, that look, that touch, would have put the question to rest. Casey was not being casual. Casey was, perhaps, the person least capable of being casual that Dan had ever met, and for once Dan was glad.
Dan kissed him; Casey was ready for it, pulling Dan into him, so that they were leaning into each other. They kept kissing, which was a great idea. Casey made a muffled high-pitched noise when Dan’s thigh brushed his hard-on, and Dan broke away.
“Couch or bed?” he asked, leaning his forehead against Casey’s. “I’m going to vote we get horizontal, here.”
“And not on the rug,” Casey murmured. He kissed Danny again. “I hate rugburn.”
“Good,” said Dan, “we’re really too tall for the couch, I think.”
“You talk too much.”
“Yeah, you’re going to have get used to—augh! Hey!”
Casey was laughing, wiggling his fingertips fiendishly. “The slow get tickled.”
“You’ll see who’s slow!” Dan chased him to the bedroom, where Casey leapt onto the bed with a thunderous crash. “Oh, God, don’t break the bed. I only have one.”
“Wuss,” said Casey without apology or regret. “C’mere.”
So Dan did; he climbed onto the bed, and they spent a while kissing, which was somehow the hottest thing since ninth grade, when he’d constantly felt like he was going to combust inside his own skin if he couldn’t touch someone, anyone. But Casey was touching him; Casey kept shuddering every time his hips hitched up against Dan’s thigh, and finally Dan propped himself up on his elbows and said, “Want a blowjob?”
“Oh, hell, yes,” said Casey fervently. He was flushed and mussed and looked wrecked. Dan smiled jauntily at him and unzipped Casey’s pants, and when he went down on Casey, Casey flung his arm over his eyes and clenched his fist in the sheets, and Dan was almost certain he could hear Casey reciting the 1978 Dodgers lineup.
When Casey came—shaking, almost silent, and then gulping in great whoops of air—Dan felt both pride, at his out-of-practice skills, and also a gigantic, overwhelming combination of love and terror. Dan figured that was about right. Dan was also, as one might have expected, still hard.
Casey didn’t actually ask, but he did grab Dan by the belt loops, haul him halfway up the bed, tear his shirt off, and then run both his hands up over Dan’s thighs, so Dan figured he’d had plenty of chances to cry uncle if he didn’t want a blowjob, which he desperately very much did.
The feeling was back in his stomach, tingling, swooping, strange and wonderful, as Casey went down on him. It was almost unbearable; he had so much practice at separating these feelings from those feelings, at keeping his love safely walled away from actually talking to Casey, that watching Casey pause for breath, lick him again, take him back into Casey’s mouth, felt like having some sort of seizure, or a fever-dream.
When he came, he couldn’t help saying, “I, oh God, I love you.”
Afterwards, when Casey wrapped an arm around his waist, Casey said quietly, “Yeah. Me too,” and Dan had to bite his lip again because he was smiling so wide he thought he probably looked like a lunatic.
Casey slept over. He borrowed some of Danny’s clothes in the morning, which were too tight, but perfect. They made out for twenty minutes before they had to get going or be late. Casey kept smiling. He hummed in the shower.
And every time he thought, What have we done?, he found himself glancing over at Danny—Danny’s face in profile as he poured a bowl of cereal, Danny dancing along to the clock radio while he grabbed a Henley out of the closet—and he thought, The best possible thing.
If you were to ask Casey about this twenty-four-hour period, he would describe it as the best day of his life. If you asked Dan, he would start by saying, “Casey is such an unbelievable tool! He has all the social skills of a Chia pet, and none of the nutritional value!” but would probably finish by saying something embarrassingly mushy, so don’t ask.