By the time they leave the club it’s past five o’clock. Instead of turning towards their hotel, they head east through the dawn. A few straggling drunks and partygoers are all they see. It’s so still and quiet, that Jerry feels as though time has stopped. Dean walks with his hands shoved in his pockets; he doesn’t even smoke. Jerry does, though, puffs frantically, and shoves two lit cigarettes in his nose. He grins cross-eyed at Dean, sniffing smoke and exhaling a thick grey cloud. Then he methodically slots the last of his cigarettes wherever he can: behind Dean’s ears, down the back of his coat, in his hair. Dean pretends not to notice. All this plays out in perfect silence.
They cross the road and Dean removes the cigarettes, miming bemusement at each discovery. Jerry stares at his hands; the knuckles are split, but clean. He washed the blood off. With a dim sort of panic, Jerry realises that he wants to hold them, to kiss them, to soothe them if he can. He thinks he might do it – Dean won’t mind, right? – but his courage falters. He hurries on ahead, all but skipping down the ramp to the beach. His heart thuds.
They hang around on the sand for a while. Dean has counted the cigarettes and shared them: three each. Jerry lights up, takes off his shoes and socks, which Dean holds obligingly, rolls up his pant legs and makes a beeline for the water. It is, of course, freezing. He yelps and leaps away as though burned. The cigarette tumbles from his lips and sizzles in the sea. Dean laughs. Jerry goes back and tries again, splashing in the shallows.
“W-w-water’s guh-guh-great, Dean!” he calls, chattering his teeth to an almost insane degree. He rubs his hands up and down his arms in a manner that is only slightly exaggerated. “C-c-come on i-i-in!”
“No, I’m all right, you enjoy it for the both of us.” Dean strolls along. Jerry watches him go, watches the measured paces, watches his back move beneath his coat. He stares and stares and wonders how a man can be so perfectly put together. Goosebumps ripple across his flesh, and Jerry knows they are born from something more than the icy water that laps around his ankles. He shakes his head, braces himself, and plunges his hands into the water. He chases his partner, ignoring the sand that sticks thickly to his feet, and claps his frozen fingers to Dean’s cheeks.
“Ehi!” Dean jerks and shivers. He makes a grab for Jerry, who dances out of reach. At a safe distance, he looks back and sees a glint in Dean’s eyes. He looks from Dean’s face to the shoes that he so helpfully holds.
“No,” Jerry says, starting forwards, and he’s already laughing nervously. “Dean, no!”
Dean raises his arm and pelts one of Jerry’s shoes, sock and all, into the waves. It splashes out of sight. As they watch, it re-emerges and bobs along on the gentle current. Like a ship in a storm, it takes on water, lists, sinks. Jerry’s mouth hangs open. Then he snaps to attention. He marches over to Dean – no mean feat barefoot on sand – but stops short. Dean looks from the water to his hand and back again. He turns to Jerry.
“I didn’t…” He shakes his head. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Oh.” Jerry meant to feign anger, but that look on his face makes it too hard. “Don’t worry about it, Paul. It was just a—”
Dean ignores him. He leans down, pulls off one of his own shoes and, before Jerry can say anything, throws it to the sea. It soars in a perfect arc and plops neatly beneath the waves.
“Well.” Dean looks at Jerry. “That didn’t really solve anything, but…”
Jerry gapes. He leaps at Dean, who drops the other shoe and catches him. He endures a barrage of kisses, laughing.
“You’re an idiot!” Jerry cries, positively weeping with joy. “Who knew? I been the Idiot in the act when all along it shoulda been you!” He hugs his neck fiercely.
“Well, it wouldn’t’ve happened if you hadn’t—”
Jerry isn’t listening. With one final loud smack on Dean’s cheek, he drops to the sand. “An idiot,” he says again, delighted with this development. He remembers another time, sitting in a café with Dean, watching him carefully cut a reasonable slice of pie, then stick his fork in the remainder. Dean shoved the monstrous slice into his face, leaving Jerry to choke helplessly on his drink, and regarding him with a bemused expression. That was stupid, too, but it was a joke. But throwing his own shoe into the sea? Oh, he thinks. Oh, I love him. He almost says it; the words bubble deliciously in his throat, threatening to overflow and cascade from his mouth. But a different three words come to him: “You’re so stupid!”
“Yeah, you.” Jerry picks up his other shoe from the sand. “But I got an idea. Take off your shoe.”
Dean does, shaking his head.
“Gimme your socks.”
He shakes his head again but obliges, holding them out. Jerry slips them on his sand-caked feet, and hands his shoe to Dean.
“There. Socks for me, shoes for you.”
Dean looks at him, one eyebrow raised. “I’m the idiot?” he says, but he puts the shoe on with his own.
Jerry giggles. “Maybe it worked better in my head.”
They look out at the sea. It’s as if nothing happened. The shoes are gone, and the partners are left with the calm whispers of the ocean, which slowly twinkles to life in the rising sun.
They sit on a bench in the park that lies just beyond the beach. They sit close. Jerry’s feet are cold. He rubs off the sand as best he can and turns Dean’s socks inside out for the illusion of a clean pair. He spends a little time poking and stroking Dean’s legs with his toes, asking wordlessly for warmth. If they were in their hotel room, maybe Dean would hold Jerry’s feet in his lap and rub them. Here, though, he just smiles indulgently and lets Jerry play footsie for a while. He doesn’t even mention the sand that stains his pant legs.
Jerry pulls his feet up on the bench and sits on them, but this just makes them ache. He shifts position again and shoves his frozen toes under Dean’s legs.
“Ehi,” Dean says softly. “What goes on here?”
“Cold,” the Idiot whines. He wriggles his toes. Dean starts and looks at Jerry with a bemused fondness that makes his head spin. Jerry hides his face.
“You gonna tell me?” he says to his knees.
“What that guy said to you.”
Dean chuckles. “You said you heard the whole thing.”
Jerry shrugs. “I lied.”
“Figures,” Dean says.
“What was it?” He wriggles his toes again.
Dean starts up and can’t suppress a giggle.
“You’re so cute,” Jerry says without thinking, and pulls his feet out to sit cross-legged instead. He can’t quite believe he’s actually said it out loud, but Dean seems unaffected, so he adds, “I mean it sincerely.”
“Cute isn’t really the idea,” Dean says.
Jerry laughs and pokes Dean’s arm. “C’mon,” he says. “What’d the guy say?”
“Doesn’t matter.” The look on his face says otherwise.
“I’m a big boy, Dean.” He pokes Dean’s shoulder. “You can tell me.” He pokes his neck, his cheek. Dean sits passively, eyes closed, and Jerry’s index finger prods and prods and prods. As it goes in for another, Dean turns his head and catches it between his teeth. Both men freeze. Jerry is less aware of the vaguely painful pressure of Dean’s incisors, than of the warm wet feel of his tongue. Strangely, he doesn’t feel so cold anymore. Dean opens his jaw a little, and Jerry slips free, pulling down the bottom lip on his way. He looks at his finger, at the slick shiny coating. He knows he should wipe it off, but finds he can’t move.
Something hangs in the air between them, but whatever it is dissolves as a gurgling moan sounds from Jerry’s stomach. Dean smiles, eyebrows up in delight. Jerry flushes crimson.
Dean stands. He lights a cigarette and smokes. Jerry looks up at him. He wants to ask again about the guy at the bar, but knows it’s not the time. Dean maybe thinks the topic has been dropped, but Jerry has only shelved it.
“Come on,” Dean says. “I’ll buy you breakfast.”
Jerry jumps to his feet and, seeking refuge in audacity, seizes Dean’s hand. “Take me to that deli?” He bats his eyelashes.
“Oh, boy!” He sets off through the park, dragging Dean along. The sun is almost fully up now, soft golden light filtering through branches. The early risers have arrived: an old man walking his dog, a young man jogging. Dean and Jerry pass beneath a large tree and are covered in shadow. Jerry finds himself imagining what it might be like to huddle closer to the trunk and kiss in secret. Then they’re back in the sun, and this clandestine image melts away.