Mitch was wrapping up his cooldown on a treadmill when a text from Toby came through.
What are you doing on October 30th?
He continued to run in place, fighting off the urge to end it sooner and indulge his curiosity. Every second that passed may as well be an eternity, and he still had about 5 minutes left to go. In that span of time, he hoped for a followup ‘nevermind’, thus ending this before it started. But so far, nothing. Zip. Nada.
He hadn’t expected Toby to get back to him at all, not after what happened the last time. Weeks passed since their failed date, and he accepted -hell, hoped- that he burnt that bridge.
A minute left to go, and he received another text: ‘Mitch?’
Goddammit. Frustrated, he stopped the cooldown 30 seconds early and finally responded, saying that he was about to hit the shower. As he undressed in the locker room, a new message arrived: ‘Send pics? 😉‘
“Fuck it,” Mitch snorted. Apparently, they were still on good terms. And after countless hookups in the last decade, who gave a shit anymore?
Besides, it was nice to be wanted, and at this point he was desperate for affection. No one else lined up to get some from him. Certainly not the actual person that he himself wanted, nor were his second or third place choices.
Taking advantage of being alone, he hurried in front of the mirror before anyone else came in. He kept the shots mostly above the hips, showing off a bit of skin below his pubes, but no more than that. This wasn’t a free show, Toby didn’t deserve that much yet, but he could have a sample to whet the appetite. The bastard had way more explicit ones of him anyway, because Toby wasn’t the type to delete nudes of exes.
He reviewed the pics, touched up the best one, and sent it. Then his phone exploded into a flurry of notifications.
‘I DIDN’T EXPECT YOU TO.
I’M AT WORK!
M I T C H.‘
Cackling, Mitch dropped his phone on top of his gym bag and hopped into the shower. Under the droning sound of running water, he was able to weigh out the pros and cons. October 29th Jodie’s birthday, so he wasn’t sure if it would be weird to plan anything around that. Especially with Toby. Or rather, it should be normal and fine, but Toby being a factor would make it A Thing. And would he be able to hide it? Should he have to? Should he keep tempting fate, keep upsetting Jodie? Was it even any of her business?
He reminded himself that she housed and shared her bed with him for the last few months, free of charge. It was her business a little bit.
But he and Toby didn’t even sleep together last time, and there was no guarantee that they would ever again. Maybe Toby got the hint that he was too much of a trainwreck to be intimately involved with, but was willing to make an attempt at something platonic.
Except Mitch did send that picture just now, so he may have unwittingly set some expectations.
This was a mess. He made that mess. What an idiot.
His current gameplan was to draw out lathering up and cleaning off, and let Toby sweat a little. The reality was that he wasted little time and treated the shower like a sprint, because all of this fucked with his head. They needed to talk sooner rather than later, before the cycle renewed and someone ended up maimed.
He stepped out and toweled off. After getting dressed, he hurried out of the building and hit the phone icon next to Toby’s name.
“I’m at work,” Toby answered within the first ring.
“It’s after 7, you’re by yourself,” Mitch shot back and hid away in his car so that no one could eavesdrop.
“That doesn’t mean that I’m not working! I’ve got this gallery opening in less than a week, remember? That’s why I asked if you were free.”
“We need to talk.”
“Now?” Toby barked out a laugh.
Toby went silent for a few seconds. “Why do you get to dictate the terms?”
“Because you hurt me,” Mitch blurted out. “You hurt me, and I’m sure that you knew what you were doing, and regardless I know that you don’t feel bad about it. But you still want to be in my life. So then, it’s my terms,” Mitch shouted, getting some relief from addressing it, but knowing full well how futile this probably was.
“We were supposed to talk about this a few weeks ago,” Toby sighed. “You left.”
“Did you like the picture?” Again, Toby was quiet, and Mitch pressed, “Did you?”
“Yes, very much,” he answered at last, all of the ego drained from his voice. “I miss you, OK? I don’t know why shit’s always fucked, I’m sorry.”
“I’ll be your date to this specific thing. But if you want me around, you have to start giving me reasons to trust you. You have to actually try, Toby.”
“Alright,” Toby conceded without putting up further argument, and something sank into the pit of Mitch’s stomach. This was the best he could do, he resigned. Toby was the only person that invested any type of effort to make him feel desired, and it was more akin to a coyote seeking a meal than it was to real companionship.
But it was this, or dying alone. He couldn’t decide which was better, and he didn’t have the energy to figure it out.