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Any lost composure had been regained by the time I arrived outside the pub-a good thing, because although I was a few minutes early, Sloan crept up beside me almost immediately.
“Wyatt, buddy, how’s things?” he asked, grasping my hand firmly and pulling me close.
“Pretty good, and you?” We framed ourselves against the brick exterior so as not to block the narrow sidewalk.
“Not too bad. Same as last time we saw each other, I guess.”
I indicated toward the pub’s entrance and said, “Same place.”
“Same fucking place, dude. We’re an exciting bunch, let me tell you.”
We both laughed at this. I had always been a bit taken with Sloan’s presence. All told, he wasn’t much taller than Marie, and surefooted in every meaning of the word. He possessed a stockiness not only self-described, but from which he derived a sense of personal pride. It felt good to be with him again.
“Marie tells me that we’re meeting your man tonight.”
“Is there some message thread I’m not a part of or something? Word sure gets around.”
He laughed and smacked the wall with an open hand. “Well, hers and mine, I guess.”
“Oh, right. Anyway, he’s just a friend, and I think you’ll like him, Sloan. He’s a really good guy.”
“If it’s the Mikey I’m thinking of, then I already know him.”
“Wait…oh, fuck. High school, right?”
“Sorry, I totally forgot you went to Brighton.”
“It’s okay. I don’t talk about it much,” he said. “Not too many fond memories from that age.”
I smiled. “He even said he was a Bengal. I’m just surprised you never came to mind.”
Sloan shrugged. “Yeah, when I saw his picture on your phone he looked familiar to me. But I didn’t think much of it until Marie said his name.”
“Crazy,” I said. The temptation became too great and I asked, “Do you remember anything about him?”
He grinned. “Well, the fact that I remember him at all should tell you he was popular. I didn’t give a shit about people in high school. But he was a pretty prominent guy.” He paused, eyeing me at little.
“You’re loving this, aren’t you?”
“You got me,” I said. “Obviously I’m obsessed with him. Stop teasing me.”
“Okay, okay. Honestly, it’s not like I ever talked to him. Not to mention he was a grade up. He was a jock. He was rowdy and annoying in the halls just like the rest of the jocks. Let me think…he was a lot skinnier. Like…tall but-I don’t know-scrawny. If that picture is actually him then the guy’s really bulked up. Good for him. Man, I’m putting myself to sleep with this shit.”
I laughed. “Don’t hurt yourself. I just wanted to know if he was a nice guy.”
“I don’t remember. But I don’t think it matters. People change a lot after high school.”
“They really do,” I said.
“You could have gotten a table,” said Marie after nearly blasting past both of us. She grabbed our wrists and pulled us toward the door, letting go only as her purse slipped down from her shoulder and into the crook of her arm. “Whoops. Got to keep my moneybag secure, seeing as tonight is on me.”
“Only it’s not on you,” I protested as we stepped inside.
“That’s what you think,” she said. “Is this table okay with everyone?”
Marie ordered us a pitcher and we took it in gradually; she claimed two full glasses for herself, which was only fair. “I think,” she declared as she poured the second, “that we should consider a direct flight to Bangkok, or maybe Saigon. Then we can hop around as we please.”
I nodded. “Flights to Bangkok aren’t bad. But Seoul is cheaper. We’re still doing Seoul, right?”
“Well, if price is the biggest factor, then we should go straight to Taipei,” she said. “I’m just stuck on Thailand and Vietnam. I could literally spend the whole month in only those two countries. And yes, we can do Korea. I’m just being selfish because I’ve already been. Several times.”
“If we go to Seoul, it would help a lot that you speak Korean,” said Sloan.
“Are we going to Hong Kong, too, Sloan?” she asked, poking a finger at him. “When exactly do we get to take advantage of your Cantonese?”
“I hope we’re going to Hong Kong,” I said.
“Everyone speaks english in Honk Kong,” said Sloan.
She shook her head. “Nope. That’s not true.”
“Fine. But a lot more than in Korea.”
I placed my hands flat on the table. “Let’s just assume we’re going to have issues communicating in most places. I mean, none of us speaks Thai or Vietnamese, right?”
“True,” said Marie. “So it sounds to me like we’re talking about more countries and shorter stays. That’s okay with me. It’ll also be more expensive, but I really do think it’s the way to go.”
“No matter how you slice it, it’s cheaper than Europe,” said Sloan.
“Very true,” I said, taking comfort in the fact.
We launched into a discussion concerning the solidification of flights. It was settled that we would first fly nonstop to Taipei, explore for a few days and then depart for Bangkok.
Marie snatched up her phone and began taking notes. “Cheap is good for the long flight,” pendik escort she declared. “I’m on board with that now.”
“I’ve always wanted to visit Taiwan,” said Sloan, wearing a dreamy expression.
For another half-hour we continued chipping away at a vague order of events.
“I would feel better saving some more money before booking flights,” Sloan confessed.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Totally fine,” said Marie. “It’s too early to book anyway. And we need more time to let the plan sink in. We’ll reconvene-oh,” she said, turning to me with an injured expression, “we’ll have to meet up online, if you’re away.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “Yes, I’ll be gone by the time we book flights. It’s okay.”
She continued looking at me, her eyes narrowing in casual suspicion. “It’s not okay, but we’ll deal.”
“That’s right,” said Sloan. “We’ll deal. The good thing is that we’re guaranteed a month with you this summer.”
“Exactly,” I said.
Sloan’s words seemed to have chased off any of Marie’s immediate concerns. She smiled and began waving vigorously until she had obtained the attention of a server. “Can we do shots?” she asked, once he arrived at the table.
I was unsure whether the question was meant for us or for the tired-eyed employee who stood patiently at my left. “If you’re buying,” I said.
“Tequila?” she pleaded.
“No,” said Sloan.
“Fine. Whiskey it is.” She turned to the server. “Just the house stuff, if you please. I am a working girl.”
He nodded and left for the bar.
My phone rang in my pocket and Marie gasped. “Is he coming? Should I order another?”
“I don’t know,” I said, fishing it out. “Hold on.”
Mikey’s voice greeted me through the earpiece. “Just wanted to make sure you guys are still there. I’m like ten minutes away.”
“Yes, we’re still here-hey, have we ever spoken on the phone before? This feels weird.”
His laugh crackled through. “I felt like being old-fashioned. Also I tried texting but almost walked into a pole.”
“Whoa. Be careful out there.”
We said goodbye and I resurfaced to find that Marie had ordered another shot for Mikey.
“I don’t know if he does shots,” I told her.
“If he doesn’t, I am confident I can change that.” She began to stare me down, eyes wide. I started laughing but still she did not break.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m confident you can, too. Please, just stop that right now.”
“You’re kind of terrifying,” added Sloan.
In the coming minutes I realized how fortunate I was to be facing the door. My positioning made stolen glances toward it less detectable, which permitted a successful masking of my general disquiet as I awaited Mikey’s emergence through it. When it finally did occur, he scanned the interior only briefly before his eyes fell squarely on me. The building’s supporting beams hung low; his height was apparent as ever and he carried an unlikely air of nervousness-although this seemed to be fading presently by the second. His tie was gone, the top two buttons of his pale blue shirt undone. The shirt itself was untucked. He carried his coat as he approached and hung it on the chair next to me.
I stood as he arrived and introduced him to Marie and Sloan, who also stood and shook his hand across the table.
Marie said nothing except for her name. She spent the next moment in what was, to me, a shocking state of repose.
“I think I know you,” said Sloan, once we had reclaimed our seats. “I graduated from Brighton in 2011.”
“Right, okay,” said Mikey. “I was 2010. Hey, were you by any chance a year ahead in math?”
Sloan grinned. “Mr. Huang. Yes. You were definitely in that class. I remember because he would post grades-“
“And we kept swapping spots, right?”
Sloan all but lunged forward. “Yes. That was you? Shit, man, you’re kidding.”
Marie broke her curious silence. “What, like a ranking?”
Sloan nodded. “Yeah, and he would use our student IDs, but I mean, fuck, everyone knew who the top ones were.”
“And that was you guys,” she said.
Mikey grinned shyly. “Right.”
“And who ended up getting first?” I asked.
Mikey pointed silently across the table.
“Come on, Sloan. You never told me you were a year ahead in high school math,” said Marie. “And the top student, no less.”
Mikey cleared his throat and said, “Your hair used to be longer, right?”
Sloan laughed. “Yes, my hair was longer.”
“Sloan identifies as a man now,” Marie clarified.
“Cool,” said Mikey. He paused, glanced toward me, then added, “I know I’ve learned a lot about myself since high school.”
“Wyatt and I were just saying that earlier,” said Sloan. “I think it’s true for everyone. There are at lot of discoveries to me made.”
Mikey gestured toward the four shots, squared up at the center of the table. “What are these doing here?”
“They’re for you,” said Marie. “It’s sort of an initiation thing. We all had to do it.”
Mikey smiled cautiously at Marie. “Are you sure we’re not sharing them?”
I maltepe escort reached for mine. “She’s just giving you a hard time.”
Marie stuck out her tongue at me and raised up the tiny glass. “To self-discovery.”
Each of us tossed one back, and a short time later, Marie appeared to have warmed to Mikey considerably. She smacked her phone down on the table and said, “You, my friend, have a little catching up to do.”
Mikey indicated toward our empty pitcher. “I’ll order another if you want.”
“Let me,” she insisted.
“No way,” he said, quickly flagging down the server and pulling out his wallet.
As we waited for our next round, Marie leaned in toward Mikey. “Wyatt here says you are fluent in Thai.”
“I grew up speaking it at home.”
She nodded. “And would you care to join us on a trip to Bangkok and beyond?”
Mikey shot me a quick glance, then asked, “How do you know I’d be a good travel companion? We just met, after all.”
“I’ll take Wyatt’s word for it.”
I cleared my throat. “I never said anything about whether he’d be a good travel companion.”
She heaved her purse up onto her lap and began to rummage through it. “You just take some time to think about it, Mikey.”
“Okay,” he said, laughing quietly.
“Behold,” she said. “I’ve got to keep these lips soft. You never know what the night has in store.” As she applied the balm she cast an ominous look around the table.
Sloan’s hand beckoned for it and she passed it to him.
Much of the newest supply of beer was deflected toward Mikey, who gave in only because he had paid for it and because, I suspected, he saw that there was indeed catching up to do. He fielded several meat-and-potatoes questions from Marie, and one or two more once Sloan could get a word in. He handled both the inquisition and the alcohol handsomely, the former possibly aided by the latter.
The entire time I felt the subject of his parents swim just below the pine surface of the table, and just as I thought it had sunk out of reach, Sloan said, “Your folks are still in Corbin, then?”
“They’re gone,” said Mikey. A speck of hesitation followed. “But it’s okay.”
Neither Marie nor Sloan asked for any clarification. Sloan sat back slightly and said, “Sorry about that.”
Mikey offered a subtle raising of his glass and drank. Each of us did the same. The moment was somber but short-lived, and five minutes later we had forgotten about it entirely.
“Give it back,” Sloan was wailing to Marie, who had stolen his phone as punishment after he suggested she would be a terrible driver. “Please, give it back.” He reached aggressively for it and she held it tightly against her chest. They both laughed wildly, but neither was ready to back down.
“No. Say you’re sorry.”
“Fine, I’m sorry.”
Slowly she released her grip and he snatched it away, lifting the device above his head and waving it like a prize. After pocketing it he said, “All I meant was that I couldn’t picture you behind the wheel.”
“That’s not how you put it.”
“Alright. Fair enough. That’s how I should have put it.”
“It still sounds mean. You’d better dance with me at length tonight, and not disappear with another lady-friend like you did last time.”
“I’ll stay with you. Or better yet, I’ll find you someone to disappear with instead. How’s that sound?”
Marie appeared genuinely hopeful. “That sounds nice. Look,” she said, gesturing over at Mikey, “we’re boring the new guy to death.”
Mikey laughed. “Fuck, I’m just enjoying the show.”
She smiled warmly at him. “You’re a very good sport. Come on, everyone, time to get out of here.”
Marie and Sloan walked ten feet ahead, leaving Mikey and me momentarily on our own.
I turned to him after we had pressed through a crowd outside an adjacent bar. “So, can Mikey dance? That’s what I want to know right now.”
He stumbled playfully a few steps ahead of me, covering his face with his hands. “No, Mikey cannot dance. I’m terrified.”
“That was a trick question. Everybody can.”
“Shut up. That’s not even technically true.”
“Oh, I agree that it’s not technically true. But through one’s own personal definition of dancing-“
“Stop.” He held up his hand. “I know what you’re going to say, and I hate it already. There must be some kind of public consensus over what is good dancing and what isn’t. I’ve hardly danced since high school. I know my limitations.”
“You know what? Fuck public consensus. Fuck all of that. I’m going to think you’re fucking great, no matter what.” I hung back for a moment, concerned that this concoction of words had solidified, for all the world to see, my state of insobriety.
Mikey just regarded me in silence for a second before throwing his arms around my torso, clasping his hands just below my shoulder. We continued precariously forward as he planted an instantaneous kiss on my cheek. There was the slightest wetness to it, for which he apologized, wiping at the spot with his thumb.
“Leave it there,” I insisted.
He kartal escort backed away and we returned together to our stride, hands in pockets, as if nothing had happened.
“I missed you, too,” he said.
“Earlier, at the office, you said you’d missed me. I’m saying that I missed you, too.”
I offered him a smile and noticed a thick wave of black hair had slipped down almost to his eyes. I reached over and brushed it up out of the way. “I’m glad you left it long on top,” I said.
“Really? I was thinking maybe it should have been shorter, like yours.”
“You’re wrong,” I said. “Short is good for hair like mine, but black hair is just so…spectacular. It deserves some presence. The more the better.”
“You know, some people don’t like black hair.”
“They’re completely fucking crazy.”
He laughed. “Hey, before I got mine cut it was getting long enough to put into a bun. I could have been like the guy from Mulan.”
I shook my head. “You racist,” I joked. “You’re not even Chinese.”
Mikey shrugged. “People tell me I look Chinese. Even Chinese people say that. Maybe I have some in my blood. A lot of Thais do.”
“Yeah? Well the guy from Mulan is pretty attractive, now that I think about it.”
“Oh, the dude’s a total babe.”
We hurried along to rejoin Marie and Sloan, who had just entered the line for the nightclub.
A courtesy storm raged between Mikey and Marie over paying for cover. I insisted on paying for myself, which would be the ultimate outcome for everyone. Ten minutes later our presence fell under a barrage of colorful, strobing lights and rhythmic pulsations, which dove immediately and unapologetically beneath my skin. I concluded that I must have been flat-out drunk by the beginning of our previous visit and this time retained my wits in greater number. That, or Mikey’s presence boosted my awareness; he presently beamed at me and handed me a shot.
“This is for you,” he said.
“Thank you.” I took it from him and leaned in close so that he could hear. “What are you trying to do to me?”
He just raised his eyebrows. We drank them at once and joined Marie and Sloan on the dance floor. It became clear to me after only a few minutes that Mikey held his own in this unfamiliar setting. As he danced he was not rigid, nor was he self-conscious; he relaxed and allowed the music to pound through him. He lacked the skill and control of Sloan, the only person among us who had any formal training, but was easily on par with Marie and me. And more than anything else, he seemed to enjoy all of the activity immensely.
“Why the fuck don’t I do this more often?” he yelled to me at one point.
I, in turn, fought to suppress moments of urgent attraction. This particular club was no stranger to the occasional shirt cast aside. Mikey made do with releasing another button on his own, totaling three from the top. He wore nothing underneath.
As the night carried on, Sloan and Marie stuck close, dancing on increasingly provocative grounds. So did many others in the club. We had since split two more rounds of shots, and as our gazes met again, I saw that Mikey’s eyes now harbored a more persistent desire. When I looked conspicuously down toward the exposed portion of his chest, he took my hand and brought it up against his skin. He was warm, damp with sweat. We danced against one another now, packed in among the crowd. This was new territory for Mikey-it was public, but our identities were scrapped among the club’s wild mass of patrons. He ground himself hard against me at the waist. Cautiously, I rotated myself so that my back was to him. His lips landed repeatedly against my neck. He brought his arms around me, up, felt my chest, and again thrust his waist quietly, firmly into me. I felt his pressure against my backside recede. He said into my ear that he needed to step outside and cool down, asking if I would come with him.
“Of course,” I said.
The cold night air was an instant blast of relief. We had not bothered to retrieve our coats from the check, but I had worked up enough body heat to sustain me for some time. My ears felt like they had been jammed with cotton.
“Thanks,” Mikey said to me. “It was getting a little too hot in there.”
I was all but certain he spoke figuratively, or else had intended both meanings. I told him that I agreed.
“Fuck,” he said. “Twelve-thirty. How late do you guys like to stay out?” He laid his words down deliberately, but they stepped slightly over one another.
I shrugged. “Until whenever. I’m ready to go any time.” I noticed my own voice slurring as I spoke. “Let’s get our coats.”
“What about your friends?”
“Don’t worry about them. They don’t give a fuck, really.”
“We should at least tell them we’re going,” he said.
“Right, we’ll find them and then go to coatcheck.”
This plan agreed with him and we stepped somewhat resentfully back into the hot and humid mess, pressing indelicately through until we had reached them. I told them we were ready to go and apologized for bailing.
“Go,” yelled Marie, pointing drunkenly and with a slightly bent finger toward the door. “My god, look at you two. Young, healthy and both fit as fuck. How are you not fucking each other’s brains out right this second? My mind is literally blown. Go,” she repeated.
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