Toby’s apartment was located roughly 15 minutes north of the bar, in what could barely even be considered a town. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, he said that he stuck around all those years because his rent stayed dirt cheap. Mitch visited the place a few times since Toby moved there, and it possessed a certain charm that he appreciated, crammed full of academic ephemera such as globes and maps, and the walls completely covered in everything from framed art prints and insect taxidermy. His favorite piece of the collection was the small upright piano which was mostly used as a quirky shelf, but on occasion Toby would clear it off and perform songs that he retained from grade school lessons. They joked multiple times that Toby would never be able to move again, on account of the effort needed to pack everything.
As Mitch poked around, Toby busied himself by his record console, until moments later Etta James’ Tell Mama crackled through worn speakers. “Good choice,” Mitch commented while Toby uncorked a bottle of wine and poured the contents into a stemless glass. After setting it down, he sparked a joint then passed to Mitch.
“I know,” Toby exhaled and gave a half cocked grin. Mitch smoked and watched him light a candle on the trunk-turned-coffee table. Soon, smoke curled upwards from the glass votive, and scents of tobacco and leather permeated the room.
“Oh, that smell isn’t natural?” Mitch played naive and took a seat on a rattan pouf.
“Afraid not.” Easing himself down onto the rug, Toby sat next to Mitch and swirled the wine in the glass before taking a sip. He pursed his lips in thought. “I’d say the natural odor here is ‘must’, on account of the curated materials.”
“What a selling point. Boys must be busting down your door to get in here.”
“Hey, worked on you, didn’t it?” Tony waggled his eyebrows, then took another sip.
“Give me that,” Mitch swiped the glass from Toby’s hand and took a drink. He didn’t care for any of the lexicon or subtleties that came along with wine, but it didn’t taste awful and that’s what mattered to him. “Anyway, I don’t count.”
“Why’s that?” Handing the glass black, he avoided eye contact entirely but felt Toby’s eyes fixed on him.
“We have history. And I’m easy.”
“Oh, sweetheart.” Toby tutted. “You’re not easy. You tell yourself that, but you’re not.” Mitch went to open his mouth, but was interrupted before he could speak. “College doesn’t count, you’re supposed to be a slut then.”
“Wow, thanks.” Mitch’s nose wrinkled, annoyed by the flippancy. Sure, he opened with the self-deprecating comment, but it remained a sore spot for the last decade. Too many times he served as the willing test subject for many a curious classmate, often because he himself was desperate for any sort of affection, to feel valued in any way.
To add insult to injury, Toby himself played a massive role in Mitch’s damaged self-esteem, back when he was impressionable and so, so vulnerable. And yet, he once more returned to the lion’s den of his own volition.
Instead of giving that any more thought, he stole Toby’s glass again and took another drink. “I’m just saying,” Toby attempted to defend himself. “By the way, I can pour you your own glass, if you want me to.”
“Stolen tastes better,” retorted Mitch. After a pause, he muttered, “And yeah, I get it.”
“Alright,” Toby shrugged and took back his drink and his weed. A few minutes passed in silence, leading Mitch to question what exactly he was doing here. He moved from the pouf to the floor, and rested his head on Toby’s shoulder.
“Why are we such a disaster?” Mitch’s voice cracked when he asked, and he winced at the sound.
“Where’d that come from?” Toby reached up, cradling Mitch’s head with the crook of his elbow, and lightly massaged his temple.
“This-” Mitch gestured to the both of them. “It never works out. You’ve always got your foot half out the door, and I can’t trust you for shit. I can’t tell where it started and where it will end. Why are we like that?”
Toby sucked in a breath, his chest fully expanding before he let it go. “Don’t know. We set our expectations too high?”
“What am I doing here?” Mitch choked out a laugh.
“I thought we were just smoking a little dope and hanging out,” Toby gave his best Tommy Chong impersonation, and it got Mitch to giggle and relax. “Nothing more than that, if you didn’t want it.”
“But I do want more. And I also don’t.” Running a hand through his hair, Mitch squeezed his eyes shut. “I don’t wanna be in your bed later tonight, staring at the ceiling and wondering if we’re diving right back into the status quo all over again. Or if we have a shot of being OK just once.” He mulled over his next words, but decided to take a drag from the joint first. “Also, I might have feelings for someone else.”
“Well, what the fuck!” Toby exclaimed. “Jesus. Why are you here?”
“He has a girlfriend,” Mitch continued. “So it’s not an option. And I can’t tell, y’know? Like maybe I just want to fuck him, and then I can move on from it. Or maybe I really like him, which would be an issue.”
“So, what? You wanted to fuck me and try to get it out of your system? And I’m the asshole here?” Plucking the joint out of Mitch’s fingers, Toby snubbed it out into a nearby ashtray.
“Don’t give me that, you enjoy being used. You’ve said so. This is like, a peak fantasy scenario, where someone in need turns to you and you get to fuck their pain away without any commitment whatsoever.”
“Are you calling me out? In my own home?”
“Toby the fuck messiah, takin’ one for all us sinners,” Mitch declared. “Sure, you’re acting upset, but I can see your dick ready to rip your pants to shreds.”
“I do love a man in need,” Toby sighed, and swung his arm across Mitch’s shoulders to draw him in closer. “Yes, alright, fine. I’m very into it. But again, we don’t have to do anything tonight. We can just…take things one day at a time, and see where it goes. Maybe we stay friends, maybe we sleep together, maybe we end up married.”
“We won’t end up married,” Mitch deadpanned while he leaned into the touch, going pliant into Toby’s clutch despite claiming to possess an abundance of caution.
“You never know,” murmured Toby, his mouth now near the top of Mitch’s ear, the warm breath making him shiver.
“Thought you said we didn’t have to do anything,” Mitch choked back a moan.
“We don’t. And I’m not doing anything.” Knuckles ghosted against his arm, and goosebumps erupted all over his skin. He was fucked.
“Aside being a liar?”
“If you tell me to stop, I will.” Drifting lower, Toby never actually made contact, but the lack thereof made everything somehow more potent and Mitch’s thoughts whirred.
Again, it was nothing if not inevitable. Mitch craned his neck back so that he could get his mouth on Toby’s. Among the surge in the pit of his belly -the lust and longing, the need and anger- hot shame manifested because, yet again, he made the first move.