“Rans, I’ve been telling you for years, you’ve been undervaluing his hotness.”
And Nursey cannot believe that this is his life right now: sitting in a steamy bar off of Myrtle Beach watching his Not Boyfriend get chatted up by a hella cute couple at the bar where he was supposed to be ordering the team drinks. Oh, and also listening to Ransom and Holster debate his hotness.
“Slow down there, pal, I’m not saying Dex isn’t hot – but get picked up by couple DTF hot??? I don’t know bro.”
“Well, buddy, the proof’s in front of your eyes,” Holster says gesturing to the tableau before them.
And there’s no denying it. The couple, they’re clearly into Dex. One – bikini-clad, petite, curvaceous – leans forward to place a hand on Dex’s arm. Whatever she says as she does draws one of Dex’s shy laughs. Her partner – chiseled, with a jawline to kill, and lips that draw the eye – smiles and comes in closer, making the bubble around the three of that much smaller.
“You underestimate the appeal of his wholesomeness,” Holster continues.
“And his competence!” Bitty plops down onto Holster’s lap, clearly enjoying his latest margarita. “Watching that boy work with his hands…” Bitty trails off on a hum.
“Do I need to be worried?”
“Jack Laurent,” and if the ooey gooey heart-eyes that Bitty bats up at Jack don’t clear that up, his tone certainly does.
And now there’s an echo chamber of love and relational confidence that has Nursey pushing away from the crowded table to go find somewhere he can breathe.
A hand tugs at the flannel he’d thrown on as they’d left the beach to prowl for food and booze before he can get too far away from the table.
Let no man ever say that Chris Chow is not the kindest of bros.
“I’m good, Chow, just – the crowd you know.”
The complicated tumble of emotions on Chowder’s face tells Nursey that he knows just what a load of bullshit that is and exactly what it really is but is also going to respect Nursey’s decision not to deal with that right now even though he strongly disagrees. And that’s what makes Chowder the best: concern, compassion, respect.
Nursey pushes his way through the crowd and finally makes it outside. The night air is cool now, the balmy ocean breeze strong along the pier. The stores and restaurants are too bright for all but the brightest stars to shine through. But the moon – the moon is full and low and –
drifted behind wispy clouds in the soft warmth of late May.
Nursey looked for the Sea of Tranquility, prayed that he’d breath enough of that peace in not to somehow ruin this moment.
Dex had agreed to let Nursey use his truck to move his things from the dorm to the Haus if Nursey agreed to help Dex move his things, too. The answer to that was a no-brainer: if Dex was voluntarily requesting his time, he’d be there.
So they’d spent the day moving their things. Nursey, much to his own surprise, was the lighter packer. His notebooks, poetry anthologies, essay collections and clothes had nothing on the veritable museum’s worth of technology that they hauled out of Dex’s dorm (“It’s all stuff I had to salvage and repair myself, man.”)
They’d gotten it all into the Haus, but the atmosphere had been heavy with the seniors’ anxiety and nostalgia as they started packing up for the last time and planning a reunion trip for late July.
Dex had only to look his way before they were both moving, heading out to the truck, and then driving out to their spot (Nursey was still confused about how he’d managed to somehow have a Spot with a guy who he wasn’t even sure considered him a friend, but, well) – the grassy expanse just outside of campus where you could almost forget that there was school and hockey and phone calls and family beyond it.
Without words, they’d unrolled Nursey’s reading quilt (“it’s not for picnics, bro”) in the truck bed and both lain down. They hadn’t done it in a while, but it hadn’t lost its familiarity. Or its ability comfort.
It was something Nursey had come to miss, and so he wasn’t going to blow it. He was going to channel Tranquility and just breathe.
“I don’t hate you, you know?”
That’s interesting because, “Going into an overnight vigil over our toss and then avoiding me for a couple months really gets that point across.”
“No, it really makes a guy trust that all the work invested in –”
“Into actually communicating with you, and getting to know you, and letting you know me –”
“Derek! I like you.”
He stopped, glaring at Derek from where he’d pushed himself against one wall of the truck bed.
“Like, I have this weird crush thing that is totally not your issue to deal with but also not a reason we shouldn’t be friends and I’m sorry for being a jerk about it but – yeah.”
“Really? That’s it?”
“That’s it? What am I saying - you’re probably used to this or some shit.”
“Uh, no. Unless you mean being the one having the weird-crush-thing, in which case, yeah. That happens.”
“Oh. Ok. So what do you usually do about it?”
“Well, to be honest, they’re not usually mutual.”
“Quit bullshitting me.”
“Shit, sorry.” Because they’d laid out ground rules, back when they’d realized they might actually be driving Chowder to ulcers, about how they had to to engage. They weren’t allowed to disbelieve the other based on a faulty preconception.
“I’m serious. So, this is a bit new for me.”
“This is – wait. You’re saying – you mean this weird crush thing in particular is mutual.”
“Give me your hand. I’ll show you.”
But that had been before they left for the summer. Before Nursey had flown off halfway around the world to spend actual time with his moms. Before Dex had gotten busy with his Google internship.
They’d kept in touch, kind of, if sporadic texts and the group chat counted. Time differences and project deadlines mattered though. Maybe too much time had passed. Maybe what they’d had in May had finally given Dex the confidence to –
“Hey,” the voice is deep and warm. The calloused hand that’s pressed to Nursey’s chest beneath the open panels of his flannel is so very welcome.
Nursey’s heart begins to pound underneath the weight of it.
He opens his eyes to watch Will’s face. Will’s caramel eyes are watching his hand, seemingly shocked that his touch could make Nursey react like this.
“You okay? You disappeared.”
Nursey attempts a smile but stops when it only makes Will frown and shrugs instead. It jostles Will’s hand, but he just settles it at Nursey’s hip instead.
“You seemed a bit busy is all.”
“The couple at the bar, right? That was weird!” Will’s face goes red about the cheeks. “I didn’t even realize they wanted, um, to, uh, well, what they wanted until a minute ago, and uh.”
“What’d you tell ‘em?” Will is here with his hands on Nursey’s skin. He’s pretty confident about what the gist of Will’s response must have been, but he can’t help wanting to know for sure.
“Well,” Will says, a quiet conviction settling over his shoulders in spite of his earlier embarassment, “that I just got into a relationship and hadn’t really had time to figure out if we were ready for that kind of exploration, and – to be honest – I’m probably too possessive an asshole to ever really want to share like that.”
“You can be an asshole.”
“Do you call me that because no one else does?”
“Does it bother you?”
“No, I’m just trying to see if I can see it. The heretofore unmentioned possessive streak,” he explains at Will’s raised brow.
Will brings a hand up to cup Nursey’s jaw. He runs a thumb across Nursey’s bottom’s lip, gentle but proprietary. It sends a shiver down Nursey’s spine.