Jerry squishes his face against the glass. “Closed.”
He huffs, steams up the window. He draws a rude picture in the condensation.
“Ehi!” Dean pulls his hand away and wipes the glass.
“Still closed.” Jerry pouts.
“It’s all right,” Dean says. He raps the window with his knuckles.
“Deean.” The Idiot tugs his arm. “I’m hungry.”
“Hold on, Jer.” He knocks again.
When they arrived in Chicago, the first thing they did after checking into the hotel was ask around for the nearest deli. Turned out the nearest wasn’t much to write home about, but the grapevine had it that a ten-minute cab ride away was hidden a gem of a place. They hurried over and were greeted by the most wonderful sight: a small, grey-haired Jewish woman named Ada Blum. The moment she saw them, she pulled them close as though they were her own children and spent the afternoon before their first show fussing. She especially took a shine to Dean – much to his amusement and Jerry’s half-feigned jealousy – and took every opportunity to pinch his cheek and remark what a handsome boy he was.
“Ain’t I handsome, too, Dean?”
“You wanna argue with her?”
They left with the promise that they would be back soon. Less than twelve hours later, and here they are again.
Jerry can feel himself freezing from the feet up and huddles closer to Dean, who puts an arm around him. He’s big and warm and safe, and Jerry finds himself wondering if they might give up on the deli, wander back to the hotel and tumble into bed. Gone are the days of sharing to save money, but he’s so cold he thinks Dean might let him snuggle close again, just this once.
Dean nudges him. Jerry looks up and sees their adoptive mother approaching. She waves to them and unlocks the door, beaming.
“My boys!” she says. “Back so soon.”
“I couldn’t stay away,” Dean says, offering an easy smile.
Ada pats his cheek. “What a good boy you are.” She turns to Jerry, spots his feet. “And this? Where are your shoes?”
“We uh…” He glances at Dean, who makes a point of staring at the sky. “There was an accident.”
“Oy.” She covers her face. “Come in, come in, before you freeze to death.”
They hurry inside. She locks the door and ushers them to a booth. The boys takes off their coats and sit facing each other. Then Ada orders Jerry to remove the cold, wet socks – refusal is impossible – and disappears out the back. Dean watches her go then looks at Jerry, who is shivering.
He can only nod.
“Gimme your feet.”
He raises his legs and feels Dean’s large hands on him.
“I won’t,” Dean says, and carefully begins to rub his feet. He avoids the soles, knowing how Jerry hates that, and focuses on the toes, the tops, the ankles. Jerry doesn’t know if it’s helping or not; he’s too shocked to feel anything.
There’s a noise behind the counter. Jerry starts, pulls his feet away. Dean watches him curiously, and then turns to look. Ada emerges from the back, holding a pair of slippers so fluffy they wouldn’t look out of place on a farmyard. She hands them to Jerry, who quickly slips them on.
“How do they feel?”
“Perfect,” he says. “Thank you.”
“I’m glad.” She touches his head. Her eyes stay fixed on Jerry, but she speaks to Dean: “You look after this one?”
There’s something in her eyes that gives both men pause. Then Dean answers softly, “Always.”
Jerry can’t stand it and declares, “Goyim don’t come better than my Deanie!”
She favours them with a radiant smile that makes her look twenty years younger. Then she claps her hands. “What will we have?”
They order two pastrami sandwiches, a cup of coffee for Dean, and a glass of milk for Jerry. Ada smiles indulgently, pinches Dean’s cheek, and then hurries off to make their breakfast.
Dean and Jerry sit in comfortable silence. Jerry’s feet are warming up, and he feels a little sleepy. He watches Dean, who leans back in the booth, an arm slung over the back, and glances out the window. His profile, Jerry thinks, is even more beautiful than the whole face. Or maybe it’s just that his whole face is too beautiful. In any case, Jerry finds it easier to look at him like this, to study how the early morning sun catches on his lashes, turning them silver and gold. He tilts his head, thinks about plunging his fingers into Dean’s hair. He’s done it before, but the thrill never diminishes. The fact that Dean lets Jerry touch him at all is so wonderful and terrible that Jerry can’t bear to think about it for too long.
Wonderful? Sure. Dean is pretty wonderful. But terrible? Jerry wonders why that word comes to mind.
Then Dean looks at him, and Jerry knows.
“What?” Dean asks.
Jerry rests his forehead on the table. He is warm now, but he wants Dean to touch him again, so he sticks out his foot and strokes Dean’s ankle.
“What?” It’s quiet and muffled.
“If you wanna do that, then I guess you’ll have to pay for breakfast.”
Jerry laughs. He sniffs. He feels tears trickle down his nose.
“Is this okay?” he whispers, hoping Dean doesn’t hear, but he does.
“Surely.” Simple as that. It slides from his mouth in that perfect charming drawl and Jerry wants to cry harder. But he doesn’t. He raises his head enough to wipe his face, and then sits back, retracting his foot.
Jerry stares out the window. He feels Dean’s eyes on him, but knows he won’t say anything.
It’s hard, sometimes, to be with a man who won’t speak. Jerry loves to be quiet with Dean, loves sitting close and feeling Dean’s breath, listening to his heart; he knows this silent closeness does more for Dean than talking ever could. Jerry loves to ramble at Dean, loves how Dean indulges his every thought, his every whim. Jerry loves how Dean knows what to do, where to touch, to calm him: his shoulder, the small of his back, the nape of his neck. He loves all of these things.
Sometimes, though, he wishes Dean would speak. And when Dean does speak – when they are alone, and it’s dark, and he allows Jerry a glimpse into his mind, his past, his life – Jerry listens.
Ada returns with their breakfast. The sandwiches are at least as big as Jerry’s head, and as he stares at them in ravenous awe, Dean gets up and kisses Ada’s cheek. She laughs and says, “If only you were Jewish!”
“He could be,” Jerry says. His eyes flick down. “Just one little job and—”
Dean pretends to hit him.
Ada goes out the back again, and they listen to her steady progress up a flight of stairs. Then they turn their attention to the feast before them.
“Christ, there’s so much,” Dean says.
“Paul, if this kills me, know that I died happy.”
Dean chuckles. “Better not die on me now, pally.”
“Would ya miss me, Dean?”
“I’d miss havin’ a career.”
“Oh, it hoits me.”
In unison, they haul the sandwiches to their mouths and take impossibly huge bites. The sounds they make with that first taste are almost obscene, but they couldn’t care less. Mustard and meat juices drip down their hands, stain their shirt cuffs. The sandwiches are devoured in record time. Jerry picks up his glass and drains the milk in one gulp, while Dean sips at his coffee.
Jerry stretches and yawns mightily. Then he gets up and joins Dean on his side of the booth. Dean shuffles along to give him more room, and Jerry leans against his shoulder.
“’M tired, bubbe.”
“We’ll go back soon.” He sets down his mug, puts an arm around Jerry, who takes his other hand and holds it in his lap.
“So what’d that guy say?” he asks.
Dean sighs. “Jer, forget it. It’s over.”
He strokes Dean’s split knuckles. “I wanna know.”
Dean shakes his head, stares out the window. Jerry presses on:
“I knew it must’ve been something bad for you to react that way.”
“Doesn’t matter.” His tone is final, but Jerry refuses to let him shut this down.
“Maybe not,” he says, “but I wanna know.”
Dean sighs again. Jerry turns Dean’s hand over, traces the lines on his palms.
“He said… some stuff about you. Some stuff about us.”
Jerry wants to look at Dean’s face, but forces himself to focus on his large, warm hand. “Nothing about you?” he asks.
Dean shrugs. “I didn’t hear it.”
“So what about me?”
Dean shakes his head again.
“I bet I heard worse.” He nudges Dean, who keeps his mouth tightly shut. Despite his frustration, Jerry is touched. Maybe Dean wants to protect him, or maybe he just doesn’t want to repeat whatever the guy said. Either way, it’s sweet, and Jerry loves him for it. He works his way around each of Dean’s fingers and lingers on the uneven pinkie.
“Boxing,” Dean says.
Jerry nods; he knows the story. He is overwhelmed with the urge to kiss the little finger, as though he might somehow be able to set it right. Instead, he slots his fingers through Dean’s.
“When I was a kid,” Jerry ventures, “there were these guys in Irvington – Nazis, I should say – and once I stood and watched them march with their flags. Swastikas. Stars and stripes. All tangled up together. I ran all the way home.” He pauses. Dean says nothing, so Jerry goes on: “But at school, I couldn’t do that. There was this one kid, Arnold Hutter. Whenever he saw me, he’d get this… mean look in his eyes. I remember him tellin’ me that a Jew was nothin’ but a nigger turned inside out.” Dean’s fingers spasm; Jerry flinches, but the pain isn’t so bad. He keeps hold of Dean’s hand until it relaxes. “I went after him once. Grandma Sarah cleaned up my bloody nose after and told me I couldn’t fight the world. But kids are easy. I could fight a kid. Teachers were worse. In elementary school, I wouldn’t sing Christmas songs. Said they should have to sing Hanukkah songs, too. They said I was uncivilized. In high school once, I did a little unplanned experiment in the chemistry lab. I got sent to the principal, and when he started saying somethin’ about Jews, I hit him.” He chuckles softly. “Remember I told you I got kicked outta school? That’s why. So, yeah. I bet I heard worse.”
Dean is quiet for what seems like hours. Then he says, gently, “Jer…”
Jerry can’t explain what effect Dean saying his name like that has on him. There is sorrow in it. There’s anger in it, too, he thinks. And there’s something else. If Jerry were completely delusional – and he can be – he might think it’s love. He squeezes Dean’s hand.
Dean squeezes back.
“Okay,” Jerry says. “You don’t have to tell me. How about the other thing, then? What’d he say about us?”
Dean runs a hand through his dark curls, then puts his arm back around Jerry.
“Just…” He sighs. “He said seein’… seein’ a Jew was bad enough. Why’d he have to see a couple fags, too?”
“Fags?” Jerry thinks about the act, how he lisps and flirts, how he hugs and licks and kisses his partner, how he stands so close he can feel Dean’s breath. Finally, he says, “But we hide it so well.”
Dean snorts and covers his face. “Jer, please.”
“I’m just sayin’, this fella’s observant!”
Dean throws back his head and laughs. Jerry watches him, heart swelling. Then he asks, “You want I should stop?”
“All the… fag stuff. I’ll stop if you want.”
“No, no… It wasn’t even what he said, really. Just… the way he said it. I can’t explain it.”
Jerry wishes he could tell him how grateful he is. Not just for that, but for everything. He wishes he could explain why seeing Dean in such a fit of violent rage didn’t scare him, but made him feel safer. He wishes he were brave enough to kiss the corner of Dean’s mouth without turning it into a joke.
He wishes, above all, that he and Dean will be together long enough for the two of them to share everything like this, every sad little story from their childhoods, every moment of pain. The good stuff, too, but the bad stuff, Jerry thinks, is somehow more important.
"Look at this kid," Dean says. He pulls him closer, kisses his temple. "Bedtime, I think."
Jerry nods. He slides out of the booth, retrieves his coat. They go to the counter to pay. Ada comes around the corner. Jerry wonders briefly if she was waiting there, but he can't focus. Dean pays, leaves a large tip, and kisses Ada again. When Jerry tries to return the slippers, she bats him away. "They suit you better, I think." Jerry kisses her. She comes to the door, and wishes them a good morning, afternoon, evening, for all the times she won't see them. They flap their hands goodbye, and as they walk out she switches the sign on the door from CLOSED to OPEN. It's past the usual time.
Jerry walks ahead, briskly. He wants to get back. He needs to sleep. But he replays over and over as he walks the moment Dean's lips met his skin. Not the first time, surely? Or has it always been me doing that? He thinks, with a giddy sort of nausea, that this may be the first time Dean has kissed him. His body flushes hot and cold.
He jumps guiltily.
"I got a cab, c'mon."
He runs to his partner, and they bundle into the back. Dean gives the driver the hotel's address, and then settles into the seat. They sit close. Jerry leans back and closes his eyes, thinking, I should call Patti. Then he falls asleep.