“Can I kiss you?”
Dean has lit his third cigarette and smokes steadily on one side of the room. Jerry has been pacing on the other side, teeth worrying the index finger of his right hand, but now looks askance at his partner. The show went well – of course it did – and they ran off to whoops and cheers and whistles. The grins that disfigured them faltered and fell, and they hurriedly hid themselves away in the dressing room. Neither one has spoken until now, and the sudden sound of Jerry’s voice – his normal voice, but low and anxious – makes Dean a little uneasy.
“Since when do you ask?”
The door remains unlocked. Anyone could wander in and see these men struggling to meet each other’s eyes across an empty room. But no one comes. No one will, not without knocking. Not without waiting. Not without being sure that the room has thawed a degree or two before subjecting themselves to it. No. They will be left alone. Maybe that’s for the best. But for the first time Jerry realises he doesn’t know what the best is. He remembers some other time, how he paced and fretted and felt Dean’s hand on his wrist, gently pulling him on to his lap. It’s too much to think about.
Something hangs between them, horrible and huge. They won’t discuss it; Dean knows they should, but fuck if he knows how to start. Fuck if he ever knows how to start with Jerry. He said some things, felt the gnawing in his gut as the words tumbled from his mouth; his young partner said things too, but sadder things, a little kinder, desperate. Dean couldn’t read them all, didn’t know why he’d even picked up the paper. He threw it away and shoved the words to the back of a mind already fit to overflow with vitriol and shame. Now, in a display of indifference he does not feel, he crushes the cigarette and puts his hands in his pockets.
Jerry lets his gnawed hand fall. He swallows. Then his numb feet cross the floor. Barely ten feet, but each step seems to take Dean further from him. He wishes his partner’s face would spread into that old bemused grin he loved so well. He wishes Dean would open his arms and welcome him to fill them. But his partner simply waits, his expression unreadable. Jerry stands close. He wants to touch him, hold his face or waist or even lightly rest a hand on his arm, but something stops him. Instead, he tilts his head and almost timidly presses his lips to Dean’s still mouth. It’s not a kiss, not really, just a brief, light pressure and retreat. But it’s enough. He hopes it’s enough.
Dean can’t look at him, can’t see the shine in his eyes. He holds his wrist, feels the jackrabbiting pulse. His thumb strokes the sensitive skin. He can’t look up. He won’t see what expression accompanies Jerry’s hitching breath. He heard about the drive to the première, how Jerry wept in secret. Then bursting forth and clowning and kibitzing as though his life depended on it. Maybe it had. But when the questions got too much for him, he broke and sobbed in front of everyone. Now he sobs alone. Dean tightens his grip.
“Ask me again.”