Conversation flowed easy once grievances were aired and drinks arrived, and Mitch felt silly about all of the worrying that he did over the last few days. Yes, the chucklefuck presently across from him was directly involved with some unnecessary despair, and that wound that refused to scab over. But at the same time, the last few weeks were so excruciating that any previous transgressions paled in comparison.
Toby blathered on about his promotion and the upcoming installation and how he brokered it, and Mitch promised that he’d stop by when it became available to the public. “I can get you in for opening night?” Toby offered. It wasn’t set in stone because Mitch had to check his mostly vacant schedule, but he committed to a ‘most likely’. Toby smiled at that, all shy and private in a way that drove Mitch wild for the guy. Did he know? Did he do it on purpose? Who could say for certain.
Mitch provided a brief synopsis of his life that occured in the stretch of time that they hadn’t spoken. He was careful not to undersell or oversell anything, just allude to some melancholy under the surface to gain sympathy points from the one person that he could tolerate them from. Without a doubt, Toby carried his own insight and agenda, always did, but the charade appeared to work in his favor.
They compared and discussed vinyl purchases and shows attended. Mitch mentioned how he might be making music again, which Toby took a great interest in. Toby also expressed regret about not being able to attend recent Monster Mash events, but he assumed that he wouldn’t be welcome; he was correct, but Mitch didn’t bother to be the bearer of bad news.
Their fingers brushed more than once across the table, and with each pass Toby got bolder, eventually resting his fingertips on Mitch’s nails. “You know,” he started, his voice silky. “This one’s on me, if you wanted to imbibe. Not that you have to, of course.”
Of course Mitch considered it, but he pushed himself to abstain for the last year or so (the exception being when Calvin broke the news about the affair). Drinking meant a strong likelihood of relapse, he’d been told. He couldn’t determine his own personal risk factor, since be some miracle he managed to avoid hard drugs the last time that he went into a drunken stupor. Were he in a familiar environment, he may have accepted the offer. After all, Toby -a recovering addict as well- seemed to have struck a balance.
But for now, while the depression and anxiety still skyrocketed, Mitch decided to play it safe.
“How about we split these chips and guac? Since apparently you’re treating me.” He pointed to the menu and mustered as much sultriness as he was capable of, and making Toby snicker.
“You can get real food, too,” Toby insisted, and waved over their server to place the order.
“Nah, this is good. It’s the most adventurous thing I’ll have eaten in recent memory.” Mitch shrugged, then waited until the server was gone before asking, “So can we do the honesty thing again?”
“Sure, why not? That’s always a blast.”
“Is this a date? Did you want this to be a date?” As Mitch asked, Toby shut his eyes and audibly exhaled through his nose, then leaned back in his chair. When his eyes opened, he gazed at Mitch, clearly sizing him up.
“If I told you that I was perhaps -maybe, yes- interested in it being a date, are you going to take off?”
Mitch shook his head. “No,” he replied. “But I’m also not looking to get involved with anyone right now. I think I’m supposed to be single for the time being, if that makes any sense?”
“So how uncouth would it be of me to…” Toby trailed off and drummed his fingers on the table, the vibration running a current through Mitch’s skin. He played coy by covering his mouth with his other hand, but Mitch knew better.
“What?” Mitch prodded, already aware of the following response.
“Invite you over to my place?” His hand stilled and then slid forward, bridging the gap and fully linking their fingers together.
“I could be swayed. If you wanna get stoned and put on some jams like the old days, I’m in.”
“I’d like nothing more than to do that,” Toby admitted, his voice inciting a reaction in Mitch’s chest that he was ill prepared for. By now, he assumed that this sort of behavior wouldn’t have any impact, not after a decade of the same thing which led to the same conclusion each time. But here he was, falling for it again and blatantly ignoring his own vow about keeping this limited strictly to friendship.
So he took it slow, picking at the food after it arrived while feeling out the next steps. He could no longer deny that he actively wanted to get laid, and things were surprisingly amicable. With plenty of conversation beforehand, they could map out the boundaries and maintain a strict ‘no strings attached’ policy.
Of course, expectations and reality were often polar opposites. This wouldn’t last, Mitch knew that. So, he could hit it and quit it. Except that didn’t feel right, either.
After they cashed out, Mitch’s internal conflict clung with the tenacity of a bug on a windshield, but he refused to apply critical thinking skills to the dilemma at hand. Toby suggested that they ride in one vehicle, and though Mitch went along with it, trepidation weighing heavy as he watched his car disappear from view. He asked if it would get towed, and Toby replied that it was unlikely. “It’s being left at a bar,” he added. “Drunk people do that all the time”. That sounded reasonable enough.
Alone in the car together, the energy turned nervy. Toby’s hand drifted over from the steering wheel to the shifter, and then to Mitch’s knee. Mitch put up no protest when it rested there; if he had any pride, he would put up a fuss, but he was ready and willing to fool around with someone that wrecked him multiple times in the past without any remorse. To be a willing participant, he deserved whatever terrible consequences that were bound to come his way.