“Five minutes to air, first team to the studio, please. Five minutes.”
Casey leaned across the desk. “I’m just saying, I can take the Lewis Q&A.”
Dan shook his head. “And I’m saying it’s fine.”
Casey clearly didn’t believe him, not that there was any reason why he should. It was hardly Dan’s first half-truth in their decade-plus partnership.
“It’s fine,” said Dan, as a cacophony of voices rang out from the control room. Until the Lewis debacle, he’d never paid much attention to what they said. These days, he hung onto every word. The nightly scramble to get the literal show on the figurative road meant that figurative road would continue. Every call for music, animation, or a connection to a far-flung city meant he lived to be on television another day.
“You’re sure it’s fine?” asked Casey, shattering his minute of normalcy.
Dan avoided his eyes, rubbing his thumbs against his temples. “For the thousandth time, yes, Casey, I am sure it’s fine.”
“Because I can do it.”
“It’s fine,” said Dan, more sharply than he’d intended. “I’m not going to call him any number of choice names on the air, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Casey leaned back in his chair. “I was just trying to be helpful, Danny.” To Dan’s surprise, he actually sounded hurt.
Casey meant well; of course he did. “And I appreciate that,” said Dan, carefully aiming his gaze to Casey’s left, “but it’s fine. Really, it is.”
“If you’re sure,” said Casey. His hand brushed Dan’s arm for a fleeting, thrilling split-second. So tonight it was rock-solid, tender, with-you-’til-the-end-of-the-line Casey, with not a trace of judgmental, condescending Casey. Dan wondered what he’d done to deserve it.
“It’s fine,” Dan repeated, and the worst part was, it was. What wasn’t fine was Casey looking at him with sympathetic eyes, still determined to make up for his less than liberal reaction six months later, blissfully ignorant of the way every muscle in Dan’s body snapped to attention in response, which was surely the last thing he needed in advance of lionizing his ex-boyfriend as the Mets’ best postseason hope with all the camera-ready charisma he could muster. That was most definitely not fine.
“Ten seconds live,” said Dave, and Dan turned to the camera with his perfected show-mode smile. Out of the corner of his eye, Casey did the same.
“Good show, everybody,” said Dana in his ear, and another voice echoed her. This voice didn’t belong in the control room, but it had become an increasingly frequent presence there. The phenomenally successful man attached to it liked to watch Dana work. He liked to watch his fiancée do what she loved as much as he liked to watch the show that had originally drawn him into her orbit. The man who controlled all of their fates like an enigmatic puppeteer semi-regularly showing up in person was a bit more pressure than Dan wanted in his job, but he would take it over such a person displaying active antagonism toward the show any day. It didn’t hurt that he’d saved Dan’s job twice.
“Calvin Trager in the house,” said Casey in an undertone. “You’re sure—”
“It’s fine,” said Dan, through gritted teeth. Then he ungritted them, grinned at the camera, and said, “Good evening, from New York City, I’m Dan Rydell alongside Casey McCall. Those stories plus, we’ll take you to Wrigley Field, where the Marlins’ Jeremy Hermida upset the Cubs with a ninth-inning home run, and we’ll check in with hometown hero Brian Lewis over at Shea Stadium.”
“And we’ll sail across the pond to Montluçon, where Natalie Hurley has the latest updates on this year’s Tour de France,” Casey continued, amiable to the point of annoying. “You’re watching Sports Night on QVN, so stick around.”
“We’re out,” said Dave.
“Two minutes back,” said Kim.
“What?” said Dan. It had only been about five seconds of Casey looking at him without saying anything, but it felt like eternity.
“Nothing,” said Casey. “It sounded fine.”
“That’s because it is.”
“Show me France,” said Dana. Dan envied her razor-sharp focus, especially with Calvin standing right there.
“France is up,” said Will. “Hey, Natalie.”
“Et bonsoir, messieurs !” said Natalie, all but glowing on the monitor, having the well-deserved time of her life. “How’s everyone doing tonight?”
“So far, so good,” said Dana. She glanced at Calvin, who grinned back at her.
“More than earning your keep,” he said, and Dan, in turn, glanced at Casey.
“See?” he said. “It’s fine.”
“How’s Mount Lucy?” asked Dana.
“Montluçon,” Casey corrected automatically.
“Great,” said Natalie. “I interviewed Sylvain Chavanel today. He’s favored to win the super-combativity award.”
“Super-combativity award?” asked Dan. He wondered if they could give that out to baseball players. Not that he necessarily wanted Brian Lewis to add any more awards to his already extensive collection, but his performance during their break-up had to make him a shoe-in. If he could learn to bat with such devastating precision, the Mets would never lose another game.
Natalie smiled, which Dan hoped meant he’d successfully kept that train of thought from derailing his game face. “Bicycle racing is a cutthroat world, Dan.”
“Nancy Wake, the most decorated woman in World War II, led Resistance fighters around Montluçon,” said Jeremy, stepping into the frame.
“Jeremy, coming out swinging with the mental encyclopedia,” said Casey, and Dan managed to nod along. Nancy Wake sounded like she could have been his dream girl in another life. He ought to focus on that.
Jeremy shrugged. “When half the Tour wants Natalie’s number, I’ve got to be super-combative too. I’ll take any tips Captain Wake has to offer.”
“Just two more days, honey,” said Natalie. She clasped her hands together. “I can’t believe it’s almost over.”
“I can,” said Dana. “You’re killing it, Natalie, but we need you back here to get the ball rolling on Olympic coverage.”
“And what am I, chopped liver?” said Jeremy, shaking his head. Dan forced out a laugh.
“Thirty seconds back,” said Kim.
Casey elbowed him. “You’re sure it’s fine?”
“I am sure it’s fine,” said Dan, desperate to be anywhere else, except that there was nowhere else he wanted to be.
“Lewis?” asked Natalie, with the perfect dismissive shake of her head. Exactly the sort of head shake you wanted next to you at the bar, assuring you that you were, all overwhelming evidence to the contrary, absolutely winning the breakup. G-d, he missed her.
But Natalie deserved this. It’s her thrill, Louise Post’s jagged rasp reminded him. It’s her wonder, it’s her will. It’s her way home. She’s right where she always wanted to be. And so was Dan, in theory if not in practice.
“The twit himself,” said Casey, because Casey kept his head in the game, answering questions without drifting into internal musical digressions. And then, seamlessly: “Welcome back to Sports Night…”
“Yeah,” said Dan. He finished his beer and waved Jack over for another. He would have preferred something stronger, but that would definitely lend credence to Casey’s conviction that something was not, in fact, fine. “It was, Casey.”
“Listen, Danny,” said Casey hesitantly, “if it is fine, then great. As a friend, I couldn’t be happier that you’re doing okay. But what I was trying to say before was that it’s okay if it’s not fine.”
“I know,” said Dan. “I got it, Casey. And I appreciate it.” And it’s going to be the death of me. “But honestly, reporting on Lewis isn’t any worse than seeing Rebecca in the elevator.”
Casey laughed, but without amusement. “Rebecca didn’t almost end your career, Dan. If we worked for anyone other than Calvin, you’d have been fired. Maybe not on the spot, but with as short a grace period as PR would allow. Dana wouldn’t have been able to save you, and neither would I.”
Dan took a long drink of beer. “I remember the death threats, Casey,” he said, addressing his pint. “I still get one or two a day.”
Casey’s eyes widened. “Still?”
“Probably the rest of my life,” said Dan. “And let’s see, how many locker rooms have I been officially or unofficially banned from? But I don’t regret it, Casey. It was—even if I’d never met Lewis, I would’ve had to say something eventually.”
Casey nodded sagely. “I know. Some GBLT kids out there needed a role model in sports, and you’ve given them the best one they could ask for.”
“LGBT, Casey,” said Dan, wincing. “They’re—we’re not sandwiches. It’s LGBT. Or GLBT, but LGBT is more common.”
Casey sipped his beer. “The order matters?”
“It’s convention,” said Dan “And some would add more letters to that. But I didn’t do it to be a role model.”
Casey blinked. “You didn’t?”
Dan shook his head. The fact that Casey could even think that, knowing Dan as he did, was either exceptionally kind or exceptionally stupid, and Dan strongly suspected the latter. “Before I came out, the ‘Personal life’ section of my Wikipedia entry was entirely about how I helped cause my little brother’s death. It’d be pretty fucking rich to think any kid would need or want me as a role model.”
“Danny,” said Casey, his eyes dark and his voice consumed by his trademark brand of tranquil fury. So now it was righteously indignant Casey, springing to his metaphorical feet to defend Dan from himself, the only thing worse than cookie-cutter best bud Casey. “You did not cause Sam’s death, you hear me? And you’ll be a fantastic role model. Any parent would be thrilled to have their kid turn out like you.”
Dan shook his head again, a golf-ball-sized lump welling in his throat. “Thank you for saying that, Casey. It’s not true, but thank you for saying it.” Now shut up before I lose my shit. And I really was fine.
“It is true, Danny, and I speak from experience,” said Casey. His voice was softer now. “Charlie’s so much more like you.”
Dan barked out a laugh, because it was either that or a sob, and he’d just have to pray Casey wouldn’t pick up the ragged edge to it. You choke behind a smile, a sultry voice put in, A fake behind the fear, the queerest of the queer—
Casey wouldn’t recognize that voice, and Charlie would. But that didn’t mean what Casey thought it meant.
“Charlie discovered the guitar and came out of his shell overnight,” said Dan wearily. “He’s nothing like me, Case, he’s just cooler than you. And don’t tell his friends, but he’s a serious, responsible kid, and that’s you all over. You’re a great dad, even if you do listen to the Starland Vocal Band.”
“Speaking of Charlie,” said Casey, his demeanor shifting, without warning, from heartfelt confession to mindless small talk. Either he was as discomfited by Dan’s affirmations as Dan was by his, or he just didn’t feel like defending the Starland Vocal Band when he’d had a long day. “He was telling me about this band the other night. They are called, get this, the New Pornographers. Naturally, I was concerned.”
Dan laughed, this time for no reason other than that he couldn’t help it. “They’re from Canada,” he said, trying to deadpan and almost managing it. “They do things differently up there.”
Casey laughed too, then downed a surprisingly large amount of beer. “And once we got that straightened out, he added that they’re playing at the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday, and he thought that would be relevant to your interests.” He cocked his head to one side, with an expression that could only be described as unintentionally, and therefore torturously, flirting-adjacent. “Was he right?”
Was he ever, Dan thought. “He was indeed,” he said, “even if I’m now wondering if I’ve misplaced my cool somewhere. I should have already known about this.”
“Or maybe you’re just getting old to be packed like sardines with drunk NYU students on the regular. But Charlie seems to think these guys are worth it.”
Oh, hell yes. “They are. Neko Case, Case.”
“Sorry?” said Casey.
“Neko Case,” said Dan, trying not to roll his eyes. “She’s one of their singers, and a goddess across genres.”
Casey nodded. “Sounds hot.”
“‘Hot’ doesn’t begin to cover it,” said Dan. He took another drink of beer and leaned back on his barstool, almost relaxed—
“So you’re in?” asked Casey. His face looked oddly pink. Either he’d had more to drink than Dan had realized, or Jack needed to change a few lightbulbs.
“Of course,” said Dan. “They’re one of the best indie bands of this decade, Casey, I’m not gonna say no. And it’ll be good to say hi to Charlie.”
“Actually,” said Casey, “there are two Bowery shows. Charlie’s going to the Friday one. He said, and I quote, ‘Do I look like a chaperone, Dad?’”
Dan blinked. “Why’d he say that? Does he think we’re going to try to muscle our way onstage and recite the St. Crispin’s Day speech?”
“Um,” said Casey. Dan wasn’t imagining it; his face was beet-red. His eyes darted over to Dana and Calvin’s table, where half-full beers had been long since forgotten in favor of intertwined fingers and the 1am Sports Night repeat. “Funny you should ask that. Could we maybe continue this conversation at your place?”
Dan felt reasonably confident that to the extent Calvin and Dana had any interest in him and Casey at this point, it was reserved for past Dan and Casey, and it would vanish as soon as the repeat went to commercial. But Casey looked as uncomfortable as he’d felt, and he’d been far too kind in the face of the Lewis segment for Dan to refuse him anything now.
I almost wish you’d been a prick about it, he thought. Then maybe I wouldn’t lose sleep thinking about yours.
“Sure,” he said. “Let’s get a cab.”
At least Casey had opted for the kitchen table instead of the living room couch. At times like these, the last thing Dan needed was a reminder of any of the myriad things he’d imagined himself and Casey doing on that couch. Including when I wasn’t exactly single, he thought, and drained half his beer in one gulp.
Yeah, this had not been a good idea, and he needed to get it over with as quickly as possible. “So what were you gonna say?” he asked. “About Charlie not wanting to chaperone us, I mean.”
“Danny,” said Casey suddenly, staring a few degrees to Dan’s right, “what’s the statute of limitations?”
“Um,” said Dan, confused, “ninety days. We established that.”
“Dana said it was sixty days,” said Casey, still not looking at him.
Dan leaned against the counter. “Dana’s wrong.”
“She said you were wrong.” Casey shook his head. “Frankly, I’m thinking you both are. I’m thinking the whole thing is ridiculous, and it’s entirely case-by-case.”
“Sure,” said Dan, increasingly bewildered. “Earth logic would seem to validate that, but what has it got to do with anything?”
“Because,” said Casey, now staring at the floor, “it’s been one hundred eighty-eight days since you broke up with Lewis. I figure a relationship that ends with your life turned upside down after coming out in a hostile industry while he dives headlong back in and doesn’t even issue a tepid statement of support, that’s gonna be at least twice whatever the standard is.”
Dan nodded. The he finished his beer. This was not safe territory.
“It was no picnic, Casey,” he said, choosing his words as carefully as possible, “but I really am fine. Calvin didn’t fire me, and the words he used in the course of not firing me made it clear that he didn’t only not fire me to stay in Dana’s good books.”
I’m fine, he thought, if by fine, we mean still in love with you after all these years. I’m not fine in the way I’m used to being not fine, so I’m fine. For the love of G-d, don’t test that—
“So,” said Casey, blissfully ignorant of Dan’s racing thoughts, “you’re saying that the statute of limitations, in your particular case, has elapsed.”
“I would say it has, yes,” said Dan. Then a horrible thought occurred to him. “But look, if you’re trying to set me up with someone, I’m not interested unless it’s Neko herself.”
Casey bit his lip, looking crestfallen. “As in you don’t want to set up with a blind date, or you’re not interested in dating at all?”
Dan shrugged. “Is there a difference? There’s no one I already know that I could date.”
“Um,” said Casey. Then he wrenched his head up, looking Dan straight in the eye. “Danny…what about me?”
Dan froze. The Earth might well have stopped turning, because that sounded a lot like Casey had just asked him out.
But Casey couldn’t have asked him out, because he was straight. He’d misheard something.
“That’s funny,” said Dan, hoping he wasn’t outright panting. “That sounded like you said I should date you.”
“Funny,” said Casey quietly, staring into his empty bottle. “That’s not exactly what I hoped you’d say.”
“But you’re—you don’t—” If he’d known, if only he’d known—all this time—
But damn it, there were reasons he’d never dared to hope. So many reasons—
“When I told you I was seeing Lewis, and you barely spoke to me for 24 hours—” Dan broke off, his palms sweating.
“Like I said at the time,” said Casey to the table, “I was upset that you never told me, and then angry with myself because maybe there was a reason for that, and it was that I’m a jackass. What I didn’t add was that I was a jackass who was also, apparently, working through some internalized homophobia.”
“You’re not a jackass, Casey,” said Dan. “I mean, you were that night, but in general you’re so far from a jackass that I almost wished you’d morph into one. It would’ve been easier that way.”
“Huh?” asked Casey. “What would’ve been easier?”
“Not emotionally cheating on Lewis, and Rebecca, and every woman I’ve ever been remotely serious about, every time you so much as touched my shoulder,” said Dan, his heart racing. “I’m dreaming. I must be. You’re straight. For fuck’s sake, you don’t even know the acronym.”
“I’m not,” said Casey, looking up again and shifting back into his earlier mode of fire and fury, “and I can learn. I’m bisexual, same as you, as I’d like to ask you out. And before you say yes, or no, I have to warn you that it’s going to be a long time before I’ll be able to say that publicly. But when I’m ready, I won’t back out.”
“That’s probably for the best,” said Dan. “It’s not good for the show if certain athletes won’t talk to you either.” Then he realized what he’d said, or rather, what he hadn’t said. “Which is so not the point, what the fuck am I saying. I meant yes, Casey, dear G-d yes, you have no idea how long I—” He shook his head, sat down at the table, and reached a tentative hand out to tilt Casey’s face upward.
Casey trembled, but he didn’t flinch. And his wide eyes met Dan’s, and finally, Dan believed him. Helpless to contain a face-splitting grin, he pulled his chair closer, until their faces were inches apart and every last nerve in his body had caught fire. “I think—” He drew a deep breath, breathing in Casey, unsure how the hell he was still able to talk. “I think I should kiss you right now.”
And Casey smiled back at him, shyly but sincerely. “I think you should too,” he said, and Dan leaned in. He couldn’t waste a second, lest he wake up.
But he didn’t wake up, and Casey returned the kiss, and Dan all but keeled over, his palms digging into Casey’s shoulders, holding on for dear life. It was real; he was kissing Casey for real—
“Years,” Dan whispered, when they broke apart. “I’ve wanted to do that for years. Practically as long as I’ve known you.”
“Um,” said Casey. “Well. Holy shit.” Then he smiled, that goofy Casey smile that shouldn’t be endearing but was, impossibly so. “Maybe you could do it a few more times.”
“Maybe I could,” said Dan. It was crime at the time, but the laws, we changed ’em, Carl Newman interjected in his mind, though the hero for hire’s forever the same one. “And funnily enough, I have the perfect New Pornographers lyric for this.”
“Oh?” said Casey. “What would that be?”
Dan shook his head, affecting a teasing grin. Oh, he was going to love flirting with Casey, almost as much as he loved kissing Casey. “Sorry,” he said. “You’ll have to wait ’til the show.”
“Huh,” said Casey. “Whatever it is, I wonder if Charlie was thinking along the same lines when I asked him for ideas.”
“He’s a smart kid,” said Dan. “Smart and cool. Shouldn’t be allowed. Better change some laws.”
“Right after we move this to the couch,” said Casey. He seemed to be going for lascivious, with a mixed result that made Dan laugh and turned him on at the same time.
“I, um,” said Dan. “I also have a perfectly serviceable bed.”
Casey grinned. “Lead the way, Danny.”