Armed with towels from the linen closet, they scrambled towards the patio. Jodie made a pitstop at the fridge to grab a 6 pack of beer, while Mitch hooked up his phone to the bluetooth speaker. In an attempt to pick a crowdpleaser, he selected a 90s alternative playlist. Jodie rushed past him and submerged herself in the water, letting out a satisfied “Ahhh”, then proceeded to rant about how she spent the last year trying to convince Victor to put in a hot tub at their house. “Y’all are athletes, it’d just make sense.”
“What’d make sense?” Avi’s voice came from the sliding glass door, and Mitch hurried to join Jodie in the water.
“We should get a hot tub, right? At the house? Obviously the students could come over and use it, but I think it’d be very beneficial overall,” Jodie explained.
“Oh yeah, there’s been all kinds of studies done on that. Especially a salt water one.” Avi came over, glass filled with wine in one hand and a bottle in the other. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise that Avi’s choice of swim trunks would be short and slim; Mitch watched plenty of his matches and hung out with him enough by now to get the idea of his style, which heavily leaned towards clothing that was as restrictive as possible. Of course, in Avi’s case it was plausible that the issue was more related to height vs width when it came to men’s apparel, but Mitch preferred to assume that the universe had a hit out on him personally. There was no way that happenstance brought a man into his everyday life with thighs bigger that his own skull, which he wasn’t allowed to get his mouth on. This was very clearly gay punishment for being gay.
And Mitch should have possessed an iota of decency to not watch Avi climb into the tub next to him -said thighs inches away from his head for a split second- but he was too exhausted from being sensible and vigilant every other waking moment. Besides, Avi’s attention was on Jodie, asking whether or not she was serious about getting a hot tub. Judging from the swift kick to the shin from under the water, Jodie apparently noticed Mitch noticing Avi. “Because like, for real? I’ll work for you forever.”
“I’m not not serious about it? We could probably get away with deducting it as an expense.” Then she salaciously grinned. “Dad adores you, Avi. You should try to convince him that we need this.”
“Oh no, I’m not asking someone to spend money. That’s not my bag.” Setting the bottle on the ledge, Avi sipped at the wine. “Damn, this is good. Do you want some?” He looked at Mitch, holding the glass in his direction as though he expected a drink to be taken from it.
“No, I’m good,” he declined. “I took an edible not too long ago, so I’m waiting for that to kick in.”
“Aw, that’s smart,” Avi smacked himself upside the head. “Wish I thought of that.”
Jodie informed him that some were in the fridge and he was free to help himself, but Avi lamented about already being soaked and didn’t want to get out. As Mitch was about to offer to retrieve them, Charlie obliged with the request to grab one, although not without a little justified ribbing. “I’m sorry, I don’t often get to be so relaxed,” Avi attempted to defend himself.
“Aw, muffin,” Charlie pouted. “Try being a critical care physician.” She planted a kiss on his lips, which was accepted and returned, but Avi frowned after.
“I thought we weren’t going to participate in the Pain Olympics anymore?” he quietly murmured before pulling away entirely. Mitch, hearing it clear as day, stiffened.
“No, I know. I’m just teasing.” She ran a hand up and down one of his pecs before lightly tapping it with her palm. “Besides, how else would you be so hot if you didn’t spend your entire day working out?” She certainly had every right to brag, but Mitch sure as hell wished that the edible would kick in sooner so that he could zone out and not be witness to this. Short of the mildest case of envy, he wasn’t specifically upset by them, but at the moment public displays of affection were unnerving.
That was yet another bizarre byproduct of the breakup that he wasn’t even aware of until he saw Victor passionately embrace Nora after he returned from the Dominican Republic. It wasn’t as though Mitch could avoid it though, or tell other people to not be affectionate towards their significant others. Still, that irrational and selfish part of him that wanted to scream out how he was hurting, how cruel and unfair it was that anyone else could be content.
Obviously, he didn’t discuss that part with anyone other than Ann. Because even he could recognize that no well-adjusted adult in their right mind would utter that murky, vile, deep sea level trauma to the psyche to anyone other than a licensed professional. So he just dealt with it, reminding himself over and over that it had nothing to do with him, and to let the irrational brain worms starve so that they couldn’t eat away at him anymore.
Sinking down further, he threw his head back and stared upwards at the heavens. The location wasn’t a dark-sky preserve, but in comparison to Monument, the light pollution may as well have been nonexistent. He smiled and enjoyed the view.
Drinks continued to flow, and compounded with the hot water, inebriation settled in swiftly. At some point, while Charlie had asked about how guitar lessons were coming along, Mitch could feel the shift happening; it was like a TV channel that’d been changed, but there was a delay before the new image displayed. He spoke much too quickly, rambling about fuck all until his mind caught up with his mouth. “Wait, what was I just talking about?” he asked, giggling. The dose that he took was low, so he wasn’t having an outer body experience, but the air around him went wobbly. “Oh no, I’m high,” he mumbled.
“Think it was about guitars?” Avi giggled back.
“Right. Avi’s fucking great.” Mitch heartily slapped Avi’s bicep. “Never seen anything like it, it’s like everything is so effortless to this guy. I don’t even know why he needs me to teach ‘im.”
“No no, you’re a great teacher,” countered Avi, his words slurring. “I need someone to show me stuff, I can’t follow a Youtube video or read a book. Big tactile learner.” He hitched a thumb towards himself. “This guy-” There was a pause, a vacant stare, and then, “Shit, it just kicked in.”
“AND you’re drunk!” Jodie squealed, slapping the water and sending spray everywhere.
“Aw fuck, AND I’m drunk!” Avi laughed harder, sinking even further down, until he was level with Mitch, shoulder to shoulder. “Hey,” he whispered loudly, hand sliding on the back of Mitch’s neck to pull him in close.
“What?” Mitch fixated on Avi’s mouth, blinked a few times, and physically tore his eyes away. But then said mouth was at his ear, beard was touching his face, and Mitch could only hope that Avi was too gone to notice the way that goosebumps broke out.
“Thank you for inviting me. You’re an amazing friend.”
“I’m thinking of-” Mitch almost blurted out ‘moving up here’, but caught himself in time and shook his head to dispel the notion. “I’m glad you came. You and-and…” he snapped a few times. “Charlie! I’m sorry that I forgot your name right there, but I’m so glad you both came.” As he fumbled through words, the hand moved up and down his neck, nails lightly raking against the skin and thumb grazing his spine as it dipped low, and Mitch made the mistake of leaning into the touch. “That feels good,” he uttered without thinking, his mind already too hazy for coherence.
“You’re like a dog!” Charlie hollered. “This is so cute. Does anyone have their phone?”
Someone took a picture, and he was pretty sure that it was Jodie. He weakly protested, not at all wanting to be caught in a moment of weakness where it would be plain to see how fast and hard he was falling. But Avi didn’t move, so he couldn’t help but wonder if maybe this was OK, maybe he wouldn’t mess this friendship up, maybe Avi won’t be repulsed by him. He stayed tucked under Avi’s arm, quiet and nestled like a fawn that was trying to evading detection by hiding under some brush. Avi would eventually let go of him and return to Charlie, but right then Mitch allowed himself to indulge in physical contact. He zoned in and out, but did manage to catch Avi requesting that the picture be sent to him.