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Easy as pie

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As he slid the pie into the oven, Patrick reflected on how much he’d like to find the person who had coined the phrase easy as pie and sue them for making grossly false and misleading claims.

*

It had all started innocently enough.

David was coming over tonight. Ray was out for the day, and Patrick would have a whole evening of privacy with David. Just the idea of that made his heart pound and his head spin and his knees weak, and other physiological reactions he used to think were metaphorical.

He’d been wanting to cook a nice meal for David for awhile now, but living with Ray, it had been a challenge to arrange. Ray loved to cook—he subscribed to a dizzying array of cooking blogs and YouTube channels—and he always very generously invited Patrick to eat with him. And now that Patrick was dating David, Ray had been nagging him to invite David too. “But I am making my moussaka,” he’d say wistfully when Patrick politely declined. “Don’t you think David would like my moussaka?”

The answer was probably yes on the moussaka (though he wasn’t sure how David would feel about spending an entire meal in Ray’s company), but Patrick didn’t want that. Patrick didn’t want to share David with Ray—or for Ray to be the one to impress David with his cooking. Patrick wanted to cook for David himself. He had found that when he cooked a meal for a girl in the early days of dating, it tended to go over very well, and he hoped it would go over well with David too.

His mind caught on that for a moment. Cooking for a woman felt different, somehow, because the mere fact of cooking for a woman gave you “points,” like the way people cooed over men doing things with their kids. Alert! Man caught in the act of parenting! Dating a man was making Patrick much more conscious of weird gender norms, things he’d always accepted without thinking, before.

But, he thought this would earn him some points with David too, even without the gender dynamics working in his favor. He wanted to see that look on David’s face, when his expression got all soft and sweet, so pleased that it was like he didn’t know what to do with himself.

Patrick would do a lot of things for that look. Anything. Everything.

*

Patrick was a decent cook. When he was a teenager, his mother made sure he knew the basics and could feed himself. “At least I know if you get scurvy, it won’t be on my head,” his mother said when he went off to college.

He did not get scurvy.

Cooking, in fact, was quite easy.

Patrick couldn’t understand people who said they “couldn’t cook,” when cookbooks existed. A cookbook told you exactly what to do. It gave you exact measurements and step by step instructions.

Patrick wished everything in life was like that.

Not just any cookbook would do, though. Patrick liked the ones that kept the commentary to a bare minimum. He was capable of assuming that the people writing the cookbook had tried different variations before deciding on this one; he didn’t need to hear about their process.

And any cookbook that had a stealth ingredient, mentioned in the text but not listed at the top, even if it was just a cup of water or a sprinkle of salt, was an immediate no. How hard was it to list all the ingredients in the ingredients list?

Then there was season to taste. What a cop out. They were the ones writing this recipe, they should tell him how much seasoning to add. To taste. Pfft.

He was aware that there were people—people he knew! and otherwise respected!—that instead of using a cookbook, would get recipes off the internet. There was no good place, in Patrick’s opinion, to find recipes on the internet—except possibly on the websites of cooking magazines, and one website, called Cooking for Engineers, which was written with admirable clarity. Recipe blogs included pointless navel gazing that you had to scroll past—Patrick really did not care about the blogger’s pointless reminisces of cooking at their grandmother’s knee. He did not need to see them reach for their thesaurus to describe the taste of watermelon in the summer. Just give him the recipe please.

And don’t even get him started on people who said airily that they never used a recipe, they would just go into the kitchen and wing it. The very idea filled him with anxiety.

It was chaos. Why did people try to re-invent the wheel?

Patrick owned one cookbook. He had screened it carefully before he bought it. Its recipes were explained plainly and clearly, with explicit instructions and, where appropriate, diagrams to illustrate appropriate technique.

For the main dish, he had decided on the chicken parmesan recipe from this cookbook. It was a dish that he’d made often enough and well enough that people called it “his” chicken parmesan, even though it came straight from a recipe and was not his in any real sense of the word. Still, it was something he knew he could make and he thought David would like it. So far so good.

Then, he had decided, in a fateful moment of overconfidence, to make a blueberry pie. Patrick had been hearing David lament about the quality of the baked goods at the cafe for almost as long as he’d known him. He’d talk about how dry and crumbly the muffins were, how inadequate the number of blueberries, in between devouring it in large bites.

God, Patrick liked him so much.

He and David had been dating for just over three weeks. They saw each other every day at work, and they’d gone on eight dates, and spent one night together; two nights ago, at Stevie’s apartment, during which David had forever split Patrick’s life into before and after.

Patrick generally did not describe things as life-changing because those words were thrown around too easily, in his opinion. David, of course, was given to saying things like that; how a particular moisturizer, for example, was amazing, life-changing—but that was different. That was how David was about everything, and Patrick loved it, loved how David so readily took everything to extremes. But Patrick was more literal, had always been, and he couldn’t say things like that without feeling fake. And most things were not life-changing, for the simple fact that lives were not that easily changed.

He should know.

But—that night at Stevie’s? That was life changing. The Patrick who walked out of Stevie’s apartment was not the same man who walked into it. Just thinking about it made him feel hot all over, made him feel like he had to do something or jump out of his skin.

What could he do with these feelings? He didn’t really want to talk to David about them. He’d already gushed all over him the day after their first kiss. He didn’t want to point it out again, burden David with his inexperience any more than he had to. Besides, David knew. He remembered how David had looked at him, so tenderly, after David had taken him in his mouth that first time, had done magical things with his lips and his tongue, when Patrick had been left gasping and overwhelmed from feeling so many things at once, things he didn’t know his body could feel.

He couldn’t tell David even if he wanted to, because he had no words for how he felt. There were no words.

But, he could cook David a nice meal. And he could bake him a pie. And he wanted it to be the best pie he had ever had, because David deserved nothing less.

You changed my life. Here, have a pie.

*

Patrick sat down to review the recipe before getting started. He was a little worried about making a good crust. David had once rhapsodized about the pies he’d eaten in New York, especially a place called Cafe Lalo; he’d gone on and on about its perfect flaky consistency of the crusts. Patrick was determined to give this bakery a run for its money.

The recipe emphasized that to ensure a perfect flaky texture, it was important to keep the pie dough cold.

That gave Patrick pause. It was the end of July, and they were having a bit of a heat wave. Ray’s house didn’t have AC.

Also, he thought this sounded a little strange. Why did the temperature of the dough matter? But, this was Patrick’s cookbook, and given his preference for explanation-free recipes, the cookbook didn’t say.

He decided to break his rule about venturing onto the cooking side of the internet. For the sake of research. He googled why keep pie dough cold and found an article from a cooking magazine that talked about the fat in the dough, and how cold kept the little bits of butter or shortening intact in little bits. These little bits melted as the pie cooked, creating air pockets that led to flakiness

Fair enough. Another click led him to a baking-focused message board where a lot of people had a lot of opinions about pie. They debated passionately on the subject of butter versus shortening in pie crust, or some combination of the two. A series of polls failed to settle the debate. One person with the screen name LivingOutLard swept in late in the debate to say that the only true pie crust was made from freshly rendered leaf lard, from pigs that were bred in only two places in the world. LivingOutLard traded bitter, pig-themed insults with half a dozen people, appeared to wear out their caps lock, and wound up being banned.

On a different thread some of the same people were screaming at each other about using vodka instead of water as the liquid. That led to more googling and more internet rabbit holes, and the end of it Patrick felt more confused than when he started.

Feeling nervous now, and also completely justified in his opinions on the quality of cooking advice on the internet, he took his cookbook into the kitchen and prepared to begin.

Immediately, he hit a roadblock. The recipe said to use a food processor to blend the flour with the butter and shortening. He had assumed Ray would have a food processor, because he had a lot of kitchen gadgets, but he didn’t.

The recipe said you could use something called a pastry cutter instead, which it turned out Ray also did not have.

In desperation, Patrick turned back to the internet. He googled mixing pie dough without a food processor or pastry cutter, and found one of those long winded blog posts. Patrick impatiently skimmed through seven paragraphs about pie baking and love languages, blah blah blah, until it came through with the information that in place of a pastry cutter you could use two forks to cut the fat into the flour. It even had a video demonstrating the technique.

It also said that, alternatively, if you had naturally cold hands and you worked fast, you could use your fingers to break up the butter and the shortening into the flour.

Patrick decided to go with the forks method. He did not have naturally cold hands. Quite the opposite, really.

He went back to the kitchen, took the butter out of the fridge and sliced it into pats like the recipe said. He measured out the flour and sugar and salt and mixed them together carefully. Then he added half the butter pats to the bowl, and attacked them with the two forks. It did not go well. The butter just clumped up into bigger and bigger globs, not breaking apart at all. Five minutes of this and they started breaking apart a little, finally, bits of butter sticking to the side of the bowl instead of his forks.

He looked at it doubtfully. Maybe it was supposed to look like this? Mindful of the fact that he was supposed to be doing this quickly, before the butter softened too much, he dumped in the rest of the butter, and the shortening too.

That turned out to be a mistake. It all immediately clumped up into one stubborn mass, which sat immovably on top of the flour.

This fork method wasn’t working, obviously. He pulled up his search history to find the blog post about using your cold hands to break up the butter. It said, some people even keep a bowl of ice on hand, to keep their hands cold while they work! 🙌😃

Despising these emojis, which seemed to make light of his dire situation, Patrick nevertheless decided to try this. He got out another mixing bowl and emptied the ice cube trays into it. He washed his hands thoroughly and then plunged them in the ice.

He was mindful of the ticking clock. It is important to work quickly. Quickly quickly quickly.

His hands were starting to hurt. The ice was cold. Cold as … ice, in fact. Brilliant insight, Brewer.

He pulled out his hands and dried them carefully. The blog post said to pinch the butter into the little pieces until the mixture resembled little peas. He tried it and was able to break up the huge mass of butter a little bit. But he could also feel the butter softening, as it started to melt in the heat of the kitchen and the summer day and Patrick’s flop sweat.

God.

He pulled out his hands and washed them, then plunged them back in the ice bowl. As he waited, he stared balefully at the bowl of flour and butter, willing it to turn into the consistency of little peas.

It didn’t work.

When his hands started to hurt again from the cold, he dried them off and attacked the bowl of flour again. He managed to obliterate some of the huge clumps, but the mixture still did not resemble little peas. It looked more like dried up clay. That was probably bad.

Maybe it was time to cut his losses and move on. The recipe said to add eight tablespoons of cold water next, one tablespoon at a time.

He did, and when he was done, he felt a little better. It formed into a ball like the recipe said it should. It looked like dough, anyway. He wrapped it in plastic wrap and put in the fridge, where it had to chill for two hours.

Patrick looked around and saw what a mess he’d made of the kitchen. He raced around cleaning up, feeling frantic even though he had no reason to hurry right now. He felt if he could get rid of the evidence of his struggles, put everything back to normal, it would mean he was somehow in control of this situation.

When he was done cleaning, he was even more hot and sweaty. He picked out some of the ice from his ice bowl to put in a glass of water. He went out in the backyard, found a shady spot, and sat down to drink it.

He spread out his hands and looked at them. He had always had naturally warm hands. In the winter, Rachel would slip her hands into his to warm them up. That was something he liked best with her. Sex was fine, but holding hands, feeling useful, feeling her cold hands gradually warming as he held them gently in his—that was something. Nothing like it.

He and David had held hands only a few times. Patrick still felt shy about it, even though he thought David liked it. Patrick remembered the pleased look on David’s face when Patrick had reached over and taken his hand on their second date. Patrick really loved David’s hands, bigger than Rachel’s, of course, and bigger than Patrick’s too, but so much more elegant and graceful than his, with such finely modeled bones in his wrists, such long fingers. He loved the hair that grew on them, little soft hairs interspersed with darker, thicker hairs. He loved the way David moved them so much when he talked; he loved watching the graceful curve of David’s hands as they constantly moved through the air.

And he really loved how David touched him with those hands. He loved how David’s hands danced over Patrick’s shoulders when they were at the store, loved when he put a gentle hand on Patrick’s back when he walked behind him. And Patrick had loved it when, two nights ago, David had unwrapped Patrick like a present in Stevie’s bed, had touched him all over, had run his elegant fingers all over his arms and his chest and hips and thighs, had wrapped those fingers around Patrick’s cock had stroked him until Patrick was trembling with need.

Patrick’s cock immediately twitched, remembering, ever-hopeful like it always was these days.

His hand dropped down to touch himself, cupping his dick over his jeans. He still wasn’t used to this, how much his body responded to even the thought of David. He wasn’t used to wanting anything this much, wasn’t used to how unpredictable his body was—well, all too predictable, really, but still unfamiliar, a little unsettling, out of his control. He’d had the strange sensation, two nights ago, of feeling like David knew his body better than he did. Patrick had loved it—and he definitely wanted to feel it again, as soon as possible—but it was scary, too; like the moment on a roller coaster, right after you crested the top of a hill, and you were just starting to accelerate down, and you knew what was coming, and it was exciting, and a little terrifying, because there was nothing you could do about it. It was all out of your control, and you just had to hang on and enjoy the ride.

And he had. God, he had. He closed his eyes, remembering how much.

Dammit. He was fully erect now, under his hand. He was going to have to take care of this. Well, he needed to shower anyway.

*

After his shower, Patrick made the blueberry filling for the pie, which was pretty simple: blueberries and sugar and a little thickener. Which thickener was best was another thing the people on the pie message boards had screamed at each other about, but the recipe he was using said to use tapioca, so that’s what he was doing.

Then it was time to roll out the dough, and if he’d thought mixing the dough was hard, that was nothing to rolling it out. Again, the recipe said to work quickly, so the dough would stay cold; it also gave impossible directions like don’t add too much flour, stating blithely that because the dough was cold, it would roll out easily and wouldn’t stick. That was incorrect. It did stick, to the counter, to the rolling pin, to Patrick’s hands. And it tore when he tried to unstick it.

So then he was forced to ball the dough up again to re-roll it, despite warnings against doing that, because it made the dough “tough,” apparently, but what choice did he have? It was ripped, destroyed. This time he spread the flour all over the place, getting it all over himself and the floor and everywhere, but he managed to roll out the bottom crust and get it into the pan without ripping it a second time.

Then he poured in the blueberry filling. It seemed very liquid. He remembered everything he’d read about soggy crusts on the pie message boards, how a soggy crust was a failed crust. It seemed unavoidable that this filling would seep into the crust at least a little bit. How was he supposed to avoid that? Should he add more thickener?

Patrick stood hesitating, trying to decide, looking at the liquid filling, knowing he still had to roll out the top crust, mindful of the ticking clock. Work quickly.

He decided to add more thickener. He got out more tapioca, and poured out another teaspoon and dumped it into the filling.

No. What was he doing? He never second-guessed the recipe. That was his one iron-clad rule. The recipe is the recipe. You followed it no matter what. He used the teaspoon to dip into the filling, scooping out the tapioca he’d just added. It was already dissolving, but he got as much of it as he could. He dumped the teaspoon into the sink and turned to the second ball of dough, for the top crust.

This time Patrick covered the counter and his rolling pin with flour, and started rolling, short, rhythmic motions from the center out, like the cookbook said.

He got into a groove with it a little, and despite the fact that he’d just made himself come like an hour ago, the rhythm of it made him think of sex, the rhythm of David’s hand on him, the rhythm of his hand on David. What a rush that had been, stroking up and down, watching David’s face, trying to get the right pressure and speed based on David’s responses. Tonight, he’d get to touch David’s cock again. He’d get to taste it again, hear the noises David made when Patrick pressed his tongue on the underside of his cock, swirled it around the head. David had liked that, had arched up and moaned and said Patrick’s name in an exceedingly gratifying way. Patrick could try again tonight, get his hands and mouth on David and keep taking careful notes on David’s reactions, what David liked. Patrick wanted to get better at it. He wanted to be the best.

Then he looked down and saw he’d gotten distracted, thinking about David, and he’d rolled the dough out way too thin. He sighed and balled it up again.

Patrick rolled it again, keeping his mind carefully on task, and finally managed to get the top crust on the pie, got the edge crimped—though definitely not like it looked in the picture—and cut some slits for venting. Then he realized he hadn’t added the final butter pats that you were supposed to dot the filling with.

He wanted to weep with frustration. He wasn’t going to take it off and roll it out a third time; he couldn’t. His pie would just have to live without the filling being dotted with butter.

*

So yeah, easy as pie was a cruel lie. He closed the oven door and stared moodily at it, and sent a fuck you out into the universe to whoever the villain was who had coined this bitterly ironic phrase.

He was exhausted. And the kitchen was a mess again.

He was grateful to past Patrick for one thing anyway, being smart enough not to plan an elaborate meal of all new recipes.

He cleaned the kitchen again, wiped down the counters, swept the flour from the floor. He got everything ready for the chicken parmesan to go into the oven, as soon as the pie came out. He sliced the loaf of fresh bread he’d gotten at the grocery store. Then he made a simple salad of mixed greens, pecans, and crumbled goat cheese.

Patrick looked over everything with a critical eye. He wanted everything to be perfect.

Sometimes, David was ridiculously easy to please. The first time Patrick brought him coffee, remembered his usual order—which was not that hard to remember, not if you were paying attention—David looked at him like he couldn’t believe Patrick was real. It was like being graded on a curve, and that wasn’t right. David deserved the absolute best, not just a C-minus that he thought was an A because of all the assholes he’d known before.

The more David talked about his past relationship history, the more determined Patrick was to be the complete opposite of that. He wanted David to feel, at least a little, the way David made him feel. He wanted David to feel cared for, like he was worth being made a fuss over.

Patrick looked down at himself. He was covered in flour. He needed to shower again, and change, before David got here.

*

Everything was ready. He was ready. He was looking at the table, wondering what David would think about Ray’s placemats and napkins. Patrick had picked the most muted pattern he could find, but they were still very colorful, blue stars on a black background. He knew David had strong opinions about presentation, and he had a feeling this would not be up to his standards.

The doorbell rang.

Patrick’s stomach clenched and his heartbeat kicked up a notch. God. Would he ever stop feeling this way?

He sent a last glance at the aesthetic of the table—nothing he could do about it now—and went to open the door. David was there, looking impossibly beautiful in black, holding a bottle of wine, his mouth twisted into a small, shy smile. Patrick couldn’t believe that someone as beautiful as David could possibly be this eager to see him. But somehow it was true.

He tugged David in for a quick hello kiss, and David’s lips were so perfect and he tasted just right, that Patrick pulled him closer and kissed him more deeply.

“Is Ray here?” David said against his mouth.

Patrick shook his head while at the same time he kept kissing David nonstop—God, kissing was so fun, he could never get enough—until David started laughing and said, “Let me put the wine down, at least.”

Patrick managed to step away, but his hands lingered on David’s shoulders. He knew what was under this sweater now: he knew exactly how gorgeous David’s olive skin was, sprinkled with little adorable freckles; he knew the way his hair grew on his chest; he knew the exact shade of his nipples; knew how they hardened into little pebbles under Patrick’s tongue.

“Patrick?” David said.

“Um, yeah.” Patrick realized he was just standing there, his fingers trailing over David’s sweater. Get it together.

He got David to sit down at the table, pulling out a chair for him ostentatiously, making a show of standing behind him as he sat down in it and helping push it in to the table. He was rewarded when David leaned his head back and looked up at him, white teeth flashing, one side of his mouth turning up higher than the other in a lopsided smile. Patrick leaned over and gave him another quick kiss.

Patrick went into the kitchen and served the chicken parmesan onto two plates, eying the presentation with a critical eye. He took a paper towel and wiped around the edge where the sauce had splashed. Better. He brought them to the table. Then he went back for the salads in their bowls, and the plate of fresh sliced bread. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar was already on the table. His eyes skittered over everything, wondering what David was thinking.

Patrick went to sit down, and David said, “Oh, the wine?”

“Oh, yes, sorry, of course,” Patrick said. He jumped up, a little too quickly, bumping against the table, and went into the kitchen. He had a brief moment of panic when the corkscrew wasn’t in its usual drawer, but then he spotted it on the edge of the drying rack. His hand closed over it gratefully.

Patrick closed his eyes and held the corkscrew against his chest. Why was he so nervous? He needed to calm down. He took several deep breaths. When he opened his eyes, he saw the pie, sitting on its cooling rack. He squinted at it. “I’m watching you,” he muttered.

Patrick went back to the table and opened the wine with an acceptable level of savior faire, he thought, and poured out two glasses.

He sat down and held up his glass. He wanted to say To us, but thought David would think it was unbearably cheesy. David held up his glass too. To you? No, that wasn’t much better. Should he make a joke, like, To buying wine wholesale?

David was still looking at him expectantly. Patrick cleared his throat and said, “To Ray being out for the evening.”

“Mm, I will definitely drink to that,” David said. That was okay then. Patrick felt a little hum of anticipation flare in his belly.

David exclaimed over the chicken. He praised its crispiness, its cheese-to-sauce ratio. He had seconds. He ate his salad, and praised that too, though with noticeably less enthusiasm. He praised the bread as he dunked it in olive oil, and Patrick felt as pleased as if he’d baked it himself.

David’s other hand, the one that wasn’t holding the bread, was resting on the table, and Patrick reached across the table and put his hand over it. David turned his hand and clasped his fingers over Patrick’s.

Patrick felt himself starting to relax. This was going well.

After a couple of glasses of wine and all of David’s compliments, Patrick was feeling bold and expansive. And he wanted to be closer to David and do more than just hold hands. He said, ”Should we go sit in the living room for a bit, before dessert?”

“Ooh, there’s dessert, too?” David said.

“Of course,” Patrick said. “I wouldn’t make dinner for you and not include dessert. I know you a little better than that.” He felt a little bubble of joy at the thought. He did know David, and he was getting to know him better still, every day adding to the catalogue of knowledge in his head.

David ducked his head, looking pleased. He picked up his wine glass and turned to go into the living room.

Patrick started to do the same, but then remembered something. Ray’s freezer ran very cold, so scooping ice cream was like chiseling a block of granite. He said, “Go ahead, I’ll join you in a sec,” and went into the kitchen and took out the carton of ice cream and put it on the counter. He’d already cleaned up pretty well earlier, but he put their dinner plates in the dishwasher and put the rest of the food in the fridge.

He went into the living room, where David was sitting on Ray’s couch. He’d taken off his shoes and had his feet curled up under him, his wine glass on the coffee table.

Patrick set down his wine glass next to David’s and sat down next to him.

David turned and immediately tucked himself into Patrick’s side, putting his head on Patrick’s shoulder. Patrick put his arm around David and laid his cheek against the top of his head.

Who-cuddled-up-to-who was another one of those gender things Patrick had never thought about before David. When he was with Rachel, her small body fit perfectly under his arm, and it never would have occurred to him to cuddle under her arm instead. The first time he and David watched a movie together, Patrick had sat up straight, holding David’s hand, aching to cuddle but wondering what the proper cuddling etiquette was for two men. Should he ask David if he preferred to be the cuddler or the cuddlee?

Then, about a half hour in, David had almost shyly folded himself under Patrick’s arm, and Patrick had put his arms around him gratefully. He loved how this felt, David tucked up against him like this; but now he thought how nice it would be to cuddle under David’s arm too, to be held by him, to feel his long arms holding him close. Maybe he would do that … sometime. Right now he was happy just like this.

David’s hand stroked over Patrick’s chest, and even that simple touch ignited his nerve endings.

David said, “So how does one make a dish like that?”

“The chicken parmesan? Well, you take boneless chicken breasts and flatten them—”

“Flatten them how?”

“With a mallet?”

David sat up. “A literal mallet?”

“Yes, David, a literal mallet. You put the chicken breasts under parchment paper and pound them with a mallet.”

David looked impressed, far more impressed than the situation called for. His hand snaked around to squeeze Patrick’s bicep. “These must help with all that pounding,” he said, with a definite purr in his voice.

Well.

Patrick thought maybe he should stop here. He was far less likely to get this reaction talking about brushing the chicken with an egg wash. He leaned over and captured David’s mouth in a kiss.

David kissed him back, one hand still squeezing his bicep, the other coming up behind Patrick’s head, encouraging him closer. Patrick deepened the kiss, pressing closer and sliding his tongue into David’s mouth. David kissed him back with warm eagerness. They kept kissing, getting more and more horizontal, until David was underneath him, warm and solid and so, so tempting. Patrick’s hands roamed down David’s body, touching as much as he could, skimming over his soft sweater, down his sides, his waist, his hips.

David’s hands caught Patrick’s, preventing them from going lower. He said, “I believe I was promised dessert.”

“That’s true,” Patrick said. “But on the other hand, maybe we should just stay here.” He kissed him again.

David pushed him away. “Stop distracting me with your kissable lips,” he said.

“Kissable, really?” Patrick said.

David brushed Patrick’s bottom lip with his thumb. “Yes. Very kissable,” he said, and leaned forward to give him a brief, soft kiss. He pulled back, though, when Patrick tried to chase him down to kiss him again. “Dessert,” David said.

Patrick stood up reluctantly. “Okay,” he said. His nervousness about the pie came back in full force.

David followed Patrick into the kitchen and saw the pie on the cooling rack. “Ooh, a pie? Did you really make a pie? From scratch?”

“Um, yeah. Tried to.”

“That’s very impressive.”

“Well, don’t say that yet,” Patrick said.

David leaned on the counter and looked at him expectantly. Oh, so David was just going to … stay here and watch then. Okay.

Patrick got out a knife and a pie server. He sliced into the pie and felt the first thrill of foreboding when the crust cratered on both sides of the cut. He pulled the knife out and cut the other side of the piece, and this time the crust cracked entirely in two. Well, this was bad, but nothing to do but go on. He picked up the pie server and wedged it under the piece, lifted it out. Only half of the bottom crust came out, the rest sticking to the bottom of the pan. He put the piece on a plate, then used the spatula to take out the rest of the bottom crust and slide it onto the plate too.

He looked at the piece on its plate: the broken crust, the oozing filling. It looked like it had been dropped on the floor. From a helicopter.

Patrick looked up. He tried to smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll take that piece.”

“The first piece is always hard to get out,” David said.

Ugh. David was trying to comfort him. Patrick was determined to redeem himself here. He cut another slice, more carefully this time, and slid the pie server back and forth under the bottom crust, loosening it, before lifting it out. He managed to get the piece onto the plate without destroying the bottom crust, but then the filling immediately started to ooze out of both sides. He poked at it despairingly.

“It looks delicious,” David said, which only increased his foreboding.

Patrick picked up the ice cream scoop and dipped it into the ice cream. It sank in easily. Too easily. The ice cream was too soft. Dammit. He’d let it stand on the counter too long while they were making out. Patrick mashed the ice cream into a roughly spherical shape and dropped the scoop on top of the slice of pie. It immediately began melting.

Everything was hot and messy and horrible. He thought about how David used to eat in the best restaurants. The Roses probably had a private chef. And here he was, trying to impress David with his amateur attempts at cooking in a borrowed kitchen with a terrible aesthetic.

But there was nothing to do but keep going. Patrick went through the motions of scooping his own ice cream, not bothering to create real scoops, just dropping some random gobs of ice cream over the glob of pastry and filling that was supposed to be his slice.

“I’ll take these to the table,” David said cheerfully, picking up the two plates. He went into the dining room as Patrick put the lid back on the ice cream and put it back in the freezer.

When Patrick got to the table, David said, “Better eat yours quick, your ice cream is melting.” David had already eaten half of his piece, Patrick saw. His hopes rose. Maybe it was okay.

He sat down. He picked up his spoon and took a bite.

It was not okay. The crust wasn’t good. All the things his cookbook had given him careful instruction to avoid, all the insults the people on the pie message board had hurled at each other—too tough, too greasy, too crumbly, too soggy—somehow it was all of these.

Patrick put his spoon down carefully. “It’s awful,” he said flatly.

“What are you talking about?” David said.

Patrick said, “This pie. The crust. It’s awful. Don’t eat it.”

“What? It’s not awful.”

“It is.” Patrick knew he sounded petulant. “It’s supposed to be flaky. It’s not flaky.”

David took another big bite. He said, “Mm. It’s flour, and sugar, and butter, and fruit, and there’s ice cream, so I’m not sure what you think could be wrong?”

That was even worse. David was being kind. These were pity compliments, and Patrick couldn’t bear it. He wanted to snatch the spoon from David’s hand. He wanted to throw the pie in the garbage. He wanted to throw away this entire day and start it over with no pie in it.

He watched David take another bite. He’d worked so hard. It wasn’t fair.

“This is because of my hot hands!” he burst out.

David said, “I’m sorry, your what?”

Patrick took a deep breath. He knew he was being ridiculous. When he felt he could speak calmly, he said, “Ray doesn’t have a food processor, or a pastry cutter.”

David was looking at him blankly. Patrick went on, “I had to mix the dough with my hands. And the—the blog said that if you have naturally warm hands, the dough doesn’t stay cold enough for a flaky crust. And—” he gestured at the pie. Exhibit A.

David said, “I thought you hated cooking blogs.”

“I do! I was desperate!”

He could see David was trying not to laugh.

David said, “Patrick, I love the pie.”

“Don’t,” Patrick said. “Just—don’t.” He shut his mouth tight.

David’s smile faded as he looked at Patrick with eyes that were far too keen. Could Patrick run away now? Could he run away and never come back?

“Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?” David said, and his voice was so soft, and kind, that Patrick thought he might break from it. Or do something awful like cry.

Instead he said, his voice carefully calm, “Nothing. There’s nothing wrong.”

David stood up. “Come on,” he said. He took Patrick by the arm and pulled him out of his chair, pulling him along toward the stairs.

“David, I’m fine,” Patrick said, trying to claw back some dignity.

“Mm, no,” David said. He kept walking, and Patrick allowed himself to be led up the stairs and into his bedroom.

When they got there, David closed the door and said, “I’m terrible at this kind of stuff? So you have to just tell me what’s going on, because I’m not really, like, nurturing? So I don’t know how to get people to talk about things.” His hands fluttered through the air.

“This is not a big deal,” Patrick said, still in the same even tone. “I just wanted to do something nice for you, and I’m disappointed it didn’t turn out well. That’s it.” Subject closed, he tried to convey with his tone.

“You did, though?” David waved a hand in the general direction of the kitchen. “That was really nice—it just—it was really nice. No one’s ever—”

So Patrick really did not want to talk about this, but he couldn’t let that go by. He broke in, “I didn’t want it to just be nice! I wanted it to be more than just, oh, Patrick, you tried, how nice. I wanted it to be actually good.”

“But it was actually—”

“It wasn’t. It was a big, sloppy mess. But forget it. Can we just forget it? Obviously, I’m overreacting. Let’s just drop it.” He tried to put on a reassuring smile.

David was still looking at him. Patrick wished he would stop.

David said, “Well, first of all, your meal was not a big, sloppy mess.”

The pie was, though, Patrick thought. But he wasn’t going to argue anymore. He’d humiliated himself enough. He folded his arms tight across his chest. “Let’s just drop it, David,” he said.

David went on, in a new tone, a tone with a little heat under it, “And also, maybe—maybe I like it when you’re a little messy.”

That tone, those words, sent a lick of pleasure humming through Patrick’s body. David was still looking at him steadily, but Patrick didn’t mind so much anymore, not when he was looking at him like that.

David stepped toward him, looking intent, and Patrick thought he was going to kiss him, and he wanted that. He wanted that so much. But instead, David tugged at Patrick’s arm to unfold it from his chest, and took Patrick’s hand and held it in both of his.

He brought it to his mouth and kissed his knuckles, then turned it over to kiss his palm. “For the record, I like your hot hands,” he said. “Very much. They might not be the best hands for making pie, but they can do a lot of other things. Like restock product. And build shelves.” His eyes darted up, and he gave Patrick a little half smile.

“David,” Patrick said.

David kissed each of his fingers, one by one. “They’re very strong and capable,” he said, “with very, very nimble fingers.”

Patrick said, “I know what you’re doing—you don’t have to do this,” but he didn’t pull his hand away.

David kissed his palm again. “And love your hot hands when you put them all over me.” And he looked up again and he caught Patrick’s gaze and held it.

Patrick made a little sound, one he’d never heard himself make before—a little whimper of yearning, but he had no time to feel self-conscious, because now David was stepping closer, and he was taking him in his arms, and then they were kissing, finally kissing, and Patrick could pour all of his feelings, this swirl of emotion that was whirling inside him, into kissing David, sliding his tongue into his mouth, feeling his mouth open for him, wet and hot and wild.

They kissed like that, locked together, with growing urgency, and Patrick wanted to move over to the bed, but he couldn’t stop kissing David long enough to move, he couldn’t organize his thoughts enough to tell his legs to walk, his body to turn and move across the room, because the most important thing was keeping mouth locked onto David’s, feeling the plunge of his tongue and the nip of his teeth, and the slide of his soft, sweet lips against his.

But now David was moving them toward the bed, and he could follow, he could let David lead him there and push him back down on it, and he could pull David down on top of him and grab the sides of his face so he could keep kissing and kissing and kissing.

David finally pulled away, and started undoing Patrick’s shirt, button by button, kissing the exposed skin as he went, focused on his task, patient, like they had all the time in the world. Patrick had noticed, that night at Stevie’s, how David seemed to inhabit his body differently when they were in bed together. Outside of bed, his movements were big and expansive, a little wild, like his body could barely contain his energy and his personality. But here, now, his body moved smoothly, with intent, his movements precise and sure, like his body knew exactly what to do as he slowly took Patrick apart.

David pulled Patrick’s shirt off all the way and ran his hands over his chest. He bent his head and his tongue circled Patrick’s nipple. Patrick felt his body arch in response, almost of its own accord.

His hands came up and stroked up David’s back, over his sweater. He wanted the feel of David’s skin, he needed to feel it, now, under his hands. He pulled at the hem of David’s sweater, and David helped him pull it off over his head. Patrick wanted to fold it carefully, show he respected the care David took of his clothes, but David tossed it aside without even looking at it, and Patrick was immediately distracted by the gorgeous expanse of skin, right here, available for Patrick to touch, which he did, greedily, stroking David’s back, his arms, his chest, and down his sides.

He scooted down the bed so he could put his mouth on David’s nipple, like David had done to him. David made a gasping noise that encouraged Patrick to keep going. He pressed closer, enjoying the feel of his chest hair brushing against his face as he licked and sucked and bit down gently, listening for how David responded.

He could feel David’s erection against his stomach, and he pushed his body up against it. David responded immediately, moaning a little and pressing down, but there were too many layers of clothing between them. Patrick’s hands came to the waistband of David’s pants. These needed to be gone. He tugged at them.

David lifted himself off so he could take off his pants. “Yours too,” he said, and Patrick shucked off his jeans and kicked them off the bed, he didn’t care where. He reached for David. David put a hand on his chest.

“Do you have lube?” David said. “I brought some, if you don’t—it’s downstairs. I can—”

“No, I do—I have some,” Patrick said, making a loose gesture in the direction of his nightstand. David leaned over and opened the drawer, and brought out one of the organic lubes they stocked at the store. He made an approving noise.

“Up to your standards?” Patrick said, smiling.

“Mm, yes, very nice,” David said.

“Are you sure? I think I might have some Gel Time hand lotion if you’d prefer.”

“Hush now,” David scolded. He squeezed some lube over Patrick’s body, watching as he let it drip straight from the bottle onto Patrick’s cock and his abdomen. He licked his lips.

I like it when you’re messy, David had said. Patrick shuddered. That was so hot. Why was that so hot?

David lay down on his side next to Patrick and squeezed some more lube into his hand, then brought it to his own cock. He stroked himself, spreading the lube around; his long fingers moving on his gorgeous cock, his eyes half closed. Patrick thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful.

“You’re beautiful,” Patrick blurted.

David’s eyes fluttered open and he smiled. He arched a little, graceful as a cat. “Mm, you think so?”

This seemed like an invitation to go on. Patrick licked his lips. He’d never been good at dirty talk, or much talk at all, during sex, but David made him want to say … something, at least try. He said, “I love the way you look. When you touch yourself, God, David—it’s so hot.” That wasn’t very articulate, but David seemed to like it. He preened a little, stroking himself a little more blatantly, performing, smiling invitingly, like he was having fun, like this was fun.

Patrick lunged forward to kiss David, wanting to feel that smile against his mouth, take a little of that joy for himself.

When he pulled back, David said, “I want to see, too. I want to see you.” He reached out and brought Patrick’s hand down to his own cock.

Patrick hand closed over himself, but he hesitated, a little uncertain. “You want me to—?”

David returned his hand to his own cock and continued stroking himself slowly. “Only if you want,” he said. But his eyes were fastened on Patrick’s hand on his cock, a greedy look, like he liked how that looked, like he liked looking at Patrick as much as Patrick liked looking at David. His eyes ran up Patrick’s body, like a physical touch, and came to rest on Patrick’s face.

“Anything you want,” David whispered. “I want you to have what you want, Patrick.”

Anything you want.

Patrick started moving his hand, stroking his cock, the lube making everything slick and slippery. “I want you,” he said. He felt his face heating up. He was naked in front of David, masturbating in front of him, but talking was so much harder. He took a breath and went on, “David, I want you—so much, all the time. You don’t know how much. I’ve never—since Friday—before that—it’s all I can think about, how much I want you.”

David made a little sound of longing, his eyes locked on Patrick’s cock, on the movement of his hand. He licked his lips and said, “I want you, too. So much. Look at you. You’re beautiful, Patrick.” And suddenly Patrick did feel beautiful, beautiful and desirable, watching David watch him like this, his eyes dark and hot.

That night at Stevie’s had been intense, exciting, world-rocking, life-changing—all of that. But Patrick also felt, all through it, jumpy, nervous, alert—taking notes, mentally tracking and recording what they were doing, what David did, what Patrick did, what made David gasp, what made him moan and arch and thrash. Patrick had been so eager to prove himself, to not embarrass himself, to show he was good at this. He wanted so much to be good at this.

But now, with David watching him, as Patrick stroked himself for him, talked to him, told him how he felt, that tension, that need to prove himself, to keep track and monitor, melted away. I like it when you’re messy. As it ebbed, it left behind a glorious, languorous heat, and he tipped his head back and arched his body into his hand, feeling the pleasure in his whole body, liking the feeling of knowing David was watching him, watching him and wanting him.

David groaned suddenly and was suddenly on top of him, covering him, pushing Patrick onto his back, and oh, that was so good, skin against skin everywhere; Patrick’s whole body was so sensitive, so responsive to David and David’s touch. David slotted one thigh between Patrick’s thighs, lined up his cock so it slid against Patrick’s cock, putting his hand between them so he was touching both of them together.

“Patrick, you’re so hot, you don’t even know,” David said, and then he kissed him, a slow, drugging kiss, an intimate slide of lips and tongue, as at the same time he began to thrust his hips against him, his cock dragging against his, sending an aching pleasure spiraling through his core. Patrick arched up in response, his body finding the rhythm David was setting, meeting him stroke for stroke, thrust for thrust.

When Patrick was learning a new sport, or when he was learning to play a song, there was always a moment when everything clicked into place, when he no longer had to think about each note, each movement, each motion, when it all fit together seamlessly and felt as natural as breathing, just something he could do, just something he knew how to do.

He felt like now, with David, felt the action and reaction of their two bodies, of hands and mouth and limbs working together, in sync, to create something that felt bigger than either of them alone.

He heard David making noises, beautiful noises, or maybe it was Patrick that was making them, as Patrick felt the heat spiraling up within him, his orgasm building up, slowly, unhurriedly, at first, and then with growing intensity, and then he distantly heard someone moaning, a keening noise, God, was that him?—as the pleasure coiled and tightened, higher and higher, until it spilled over, and he was coming, shuddering with pleasure and release.

David began thrusting against him more insistently, and Patrick slid his hand between them to wrap his fingers around David’s cock, heard David gasp out in response, “Oh, God—yes, Patrick, touch me, that’s so good, you’re so good—yes—” Then David braced both hands on the bed on either side of Patrick’s head, giving himself more leverage, fucking harder and faster into Patrick’s hand, against his cock and his stomach. Patrick wrapped his other hand around David’s back, pressing hard as he felt David’s thrusts grow erratic, until he threw his head back and cried out, and Patrick felt the hot come spill out between them.

David collapsed so his weight was suddenly pressing Patrick down all over, and Patrick wrapped both arms around him and held him.

David whispered in his ear, “Sorry, I’m probably crushing you.”

“I like it,” Patrick said, holding him tighter, and he felt David’s lips touch his ear.

They lay like that, not moving, for several long minutes, but finally had to get up to clean up. That was another thing to get used to—twice as much mess to clean up afterwards. Patrick bit down on a laugh.

“Something funny?” David said, arching a brow. He had a towel in his hand and was wiping himself off.

“Just—messy,” Patrick said, gesturing between them.

David wrinkled his nose. “Rude,” he said, but he also tucked a smile in the corner of his mouth.

They got back in bed, still naked, and as they slid under the covers, Patrick remembered how he’d thought about how nice it would feel to cuddle up to David, to be the cuddlee instead of the cuddler. He stayed sitting up as David lay down.

“What’s wrong?” David said, when Patrick didn’t move.

“Um,” Patrick said, not knowing how to explain what he wanted. So he just did it, lay down and ducked under David’s arm, slotted himself against his side, and put his head on his shoulder. David’s arms came around him.

Patrick shifted his body against David’s, like he was trying to get comfortable, but he was already comfortable, really; he did it because he could, just to feel the pleasure of skin against skin, of his body shifting against David’s.

Patrick said, “Thank you.”

“What for?”

“For, um, helping me, tonight. Sorry. I kind of overreacted.”

“It was actually an interesting role reversal for me? So maybe I should be thanking you.”

Patrick laughed. “Well, I am a very generous person. Just like you.”

David laughed a little. Then his hand trailed along Patrick’s arm. “You are, you know,” he said.

He sounded so serious that Patrick lifted his head.

David’s eyebrows were drawn together, a little crease between them. He said, “I hope you know—all these lovely things you do for me, it’s not—that’s not why I like you. You don’t have to, like, do stuff for me.”

Patrick thought about that. The truth was, he really, really liked doing things for David.

Doing things for David gave Patrick a place for all these feelings to go; all this energy that hummed constantly under his skin when he was around David—he could channel it into doing little things for him: perfecting David’s coffee order, bringing him a cookie from the cafe when he needed an afternoon sugar rush, rubbing his neck when it got tense, and teasing him when he freaked out when a customers mucked up the display of bath salts.

It was like putting together a spreadsheet—okay, that wasn’t romantic, maybe, but, well, it kind of was. It was like there was a mental spreadsheet labeled David in his head, where Patrick catalogued all the little details about David, his likes and dislikes, the things that annoyed him and the things that made him smile, what stressed him out and what turned him on. Patrick could inhale details and breathe out acts of service.

Was David asking him to stop? If Patrick couldn’t do that anymore—

“Do you—don’t you like it?” Patrick asked.

“I’m not saying that. I’m just saying, you don’t have to."

Patrick said slowly, “I know that, David. I like doing things for you. I don’t want to stop.”

“Oh, thank God,” David said.

Patrick laughed at that, partly from relief, partly from sheer joy, joy at this, being in David’s arms, feeling loose and relaxed from the afterglow of a spectacular orgasm. He lay his head back down and buried his face in David’s neck, inhaling the scent of him.

He had been right, earlier. Snuggling like this was nice. Really nice.

“Patrick?” David’s voice came in the dark.

“Yes?” Patrick said.

“I never got to finish my pie.”

Patrick laughed. Then he lifted his head again and looked at David’s face. “Wait. Seriously?”

“I never joke about dessert.”

Patrick laughed again and threw back the covers. “Well, let’s go get you some pie, then.”

They got dressed and crept downstairs to the kitchen, giggling in the dark, trying to be very quiet in case Ray was home. Patrick served up two more pieces of pie, this time hardly caring about keeping the pieces intact. He just cut them and piled them haphazardly on the plate. They fell apart, but he didn’t care. “Ice cream?” he said.

“Naturally,” David said. So Patrick got out the ice cream and was pleased it had refrozen but that it was not yet at rock hard solidity in Ray’s freezer.

They didn’t go into the dining room, just stood at the counter and leaned over their plates. Patrick got out two spoons and handed one to David. David took a bite. Patrick watched as he savored his bite, his eyes half closed. David always enjoyed his food to a degree that Patrick found highly erotic.

Patrick leaned over and caught David’s lips with his. He tasted like pie: fruit and sweetness and ice cream. Also joy and laughter and sex.

David opened his eyes and said, “This is a good pie, Patrick.” David pointed his spoon at him. “Have some.”

Patrick took a bite of his piece. The crust wasn’t flaky. It was crumbly and tough on top, soggy on the bottom. It was lopsided, imperfect, messy—all of those things. But, David was right. It was still good. Really good.

Patrick took another bite. Actually, it was more than that. He was pretty sure this was the best pie he’d ever had.