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8

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Jonny rolled off Travis the moment he was done fucking him. The smell of sex and sweat clung to his limbs as he swung both foot over the edge of the mattress. Mattresses, really, because Travis didn't have a bed up here. All they had were a stack of mattresses, piled together like pancakes, and that was where they had been going at it like horny horses. They were old and smelled of disease and age, and now in extension so did the both of them.

The smell of sex was a great addition to the smell of history and moldy wallpaper. Calling it a room was maybe a little ambitious, since it was just an attic that someone tried to convert into an actual room circa 1950, judging from the retro crap used as wallpaper. Tried, and failed. Now it had wallpaper that was halfway done, and was used as a store for stuff no one had use for. A box of newspaper clippings of a long-dead relative from World War 2, a phonograph with a broken needle – forgotten things, unwanted things.

Nowhere you'd want to live in, but it's great for when you need to throw someone against the wall and fuck their brains out.

He twitched all over for a cigarette.

"Hey," Came the quiet voice. Travis wiggled on the mattress until his face was pressed up against the space where Jonny's ass was giving way to his thighs. Travis' heavy form sank into the lumpy, broken mattress. The cumulative sweat of two teenage boys fucking like bunnies for four months stained it yellow.

"Hey yourself."

He really needed a cigarette. He had a headache that felt like a permanent tattoo between his eyes; his skin felt like it crawled with a thousand bugs, all of them chanting 'Just one! Just one! Just one!'. That was the problem with eating two packs a day. When you stop, shit happens.

He looked down. Travis smiled up at him, eyes still shut like he was afraid that if he opened them, he would see Jonny hopping around the room, one leg in his jeans and hands already flailing around for the rest of his clothes. It wouldn't be the first time it happened.

"I need a smoke." He told Travis, expecting him to pull it out of his ass like magic. Travis would do a great deal for him. Hiding a packet somewhere would be the least of his service.

Travis just buried his head in the mattress and mumbled. Jonny nudged him between his shoulder blades. "Travis, I need a smoke. Don't you have any around here?"

This time the grunt was a decipherable, "Sorry, man." Jonny let out a sigh of frustration and leaned back against the wall. Travis' legs were trapped between his ass and the peeling wallpaper. He stared moodily at the poster on the opposite wall. In the four months since they had started their relationship, more and more things were finding their ways into the attic. Originally the place just had a stack of mattresses, put together like pancakes, a broken clock, and several huge boxes of newspaper clippings detailing the various triumphs and victories of the Beckett family.

Now pillows were appearing, as was art supplies. Next week, maybe a TV and a popcorn machine would find themselves here too, a shining symbol of Travis' yearning. It was not hard to see how Travis spent his Saturday nights – he told Jonny himself – sitting in the dusty attic with a radio pounding out the latest mainstream automaton hits, waiting for Jonny to stop by.

It would be sweet to someone else. To Jonny, it was rather pathetic.

His face grinned back at him from the sample poster, cheerily saying 'Put someone who can count on the accounts! Jonny for treasurer!'

"Hey," Travis tried again. "You don't have to go, y'know."

There were three types of post-coital behavior in this world: Rolling away and sleeping, pillow talk, and running very fast out of the room. Travis suffered from the disease of pillow talking. Jonny didn't answer him. He tried again, this time pressing his face close and nuzzling the mattress like a satisfied cat.

"What?" He said irritably.

"My parents, they aren't home." Travis yawned. "You can stay the night if you want. You don't have to go."

"If they're not in, why the fuck are we doing it in your attic?"

"Because y'know, the help." He mumbled sleepily.

"Right."

Even now, there was the sound of a vacuum purging the room beneath them of dust. The help must have heard them earlier – all the thumping and yowling and moaning would have woken the ghost of long-dead whores, much less hire-per-hour maids. To Jonny, it seemed really stupid, going behind the back of people who knew exactly what you were up to.

Travis forged on. "Parents won't be home. Got tickets for some fancy opera shit and they won't be back tonight."

Not until the fat lady stops singing, in this case.

"And do what?"

"We have beer, and plenty of snacks. There's a whole bunch of movies we could watch, and there's football later. If you rather go out, we have the pool, or if you prefer the outdoors we can go for a walk at the –"

Jonny tuned him out and rubbed his aching head, settling against the wall. Travis body still laid between him and the wall, whitey tighties still looped around one ankle.

"I'm serious, y'know. Like, you can stay the night. It's just granddad and me around, so we can hang out. Watch some football."

A more sterling recommendation you can never find. "Why in the name of faggotry would I want to watch football? You know I hate that crap."

Travis gave him a lopsided smile. "Didn't seem to stop you ogling our asses when we were on the field."

"That's just the uniform. It's not my fault if they gave the players of a shit game the tightest pants in athletic history."

"Aww, it's not so bad. You can ogle the players while I ogle the score instead."

"Any boner I get dies a dramatic death the moment the cheerleaders show up."

He drummed his fingers nervously on his thigh. Jonny was the kind of person who couldn't sit still – who had to be jumping, running, skating at all times – and that included his post-coital phase as well. He couldn't fathom the idea of lazing around with his arms wrapped around someone. If they were done having sex, there was absolutely no reason for him to stick around.

No reason, except Travis took one of the pillows and hugging it to himself, pressed tightly against Jonny.

"I've missed you, you know," He murmured.

"Travis, I've only been out of this room for two days. It's not like I've gone monk on you."

Travis yawned again. "No, I mean, I've missed the way you are. You've like, gone all posh and shit. You hardly ever hang out with m—with us anymore unless you've got something for us to do. You talk all proper, and you don't even swear unless you're supposed to."

Sometimes Travis knew him so well, the thought made Jonny broke out in cold sweat. Maybe that was the side-effect of puppy love. Travis certainly followed him around enough, and lately, he was capable of discerning Jonny's motives before he even explained himself. It was scary, the thought.

"What's that mean, supposed to?"

Travis looked up, looking surprisingly intense. Surprisingly intelligent too, for someone Jonny had once credited with an IQ of about 5. Travis featured 200 pounds of muscle and was built like an inverted triangle; on good days when the weather was clear, you might see his head. Because of that, lots of students – including Jonny – had figured he'd be one of those jocks who communicated primarily through prehistoric grunting.

When they had first met, Jonny had thought exactly that – that he would need subtitles to communicate with Travis too – but he had defied that expectation. He was easy to manipulate, yes, but Jonny knew it was because Travis wanted to please him.

"You know who I'm talking about. Us, the greasers who's always hanging out at the garage. You don't swear around the rich kids, but it's a mile an hour around us."

"Yeah?" He said, neither denying or agreeing to it. What you don't admit can't be true. Their debate club supervisor once told him he had what it takes to be a politician by virtue of his inability to own up to anything alone.

"Uh-huh. So it's great that you're like, all back to normal now. Here, I mean. It's a total relief."

Before he knew what he was doing, Jonny was stroking his hair. It was slightly stiff with sweat and darker than its usual honey brown color. Travis smiled and nuzzled his hand like an affectionate dog.

"Dunno what you're talking about, man." Jonny said.

"'S fine." Came the sleepy reply. They drifted off into companionable silence. Jonny continued stroking his hair, thinking he would leave the moment Travis fell asleep. That was practically Travis' modus operandi after a good session of clothes-tearing and hickey-making, but just when he thought Travis'd fallen into sleep, he spoke again.

"So are you? Staying, I mean. I'm serious, it'll be fun, man."

Oh, for fuck's sake.

He scowled and snarled at him. "What the fuck is this, Travis? You think we're setting up house and playing at boyfriends or something? You want to sit around and list down our kids' names?"

If Travis' face had been a chalice, the hurt would be overflowing right out of it.

"Dude, I mean—I just mean, we don't really hang out much at school except up at the Shack and that's only when we bump into each other." He protested.

"And you don't think that might be because I planned it that way?"

"Yeah, and I get it if you don't want them to know, but 's not like anyone cares here if we hang out, so we can be more—"

"What makes you think it's anything more?"

The silence that followed was as informative as a nine-page essay. Travis' face was wiped clean of expression. The three stages of hurt in ascending hurt: Outrage, actual hurt, and total blankness. After a long, awkward pause where Travis visibly took long breaths to control himself, he spoke.

"You're not even in the closet, man. Why do you care what people even think?"

"The gay thing hasn't gained enough momentum to be fashionable yet. There's no point revealing it now – I'd gain more points if I do it when it's seen as something cool and slick." He retorted. It sounded horribly calculating even to himself.

Travis just stared at him. "Is everything a game to you? All about points and cards up your sleeves and hidden tricks?"

"Not really. But it doesn't hurt to think hard on how I want to live my life."

"Even us?"

There, the root of the problem.

"What about us, Travis?"

"I thought," He said slowly. "That we were friends with benefits."

"Yeah?" Jonny was already off the mattress, pulling on his jeans and looking around for his Dead Fish t-shirt.

"Emphasis on the friends part."

He found the shirt, which Travis had practically torn off him earlier when they had gotten into the room. Travis' own shirt was sitting on a dusty box. When he was done dressing himself, he turned back to Travis, who was still lying naked on the mattress, propped up on one elbow now with a wary expression on his face.

He had a nice body. Football was good for one thing and one thing only: cultivating a crop of nicely shaped young men to fuck and be fucked by.

"We're not friends with benefits, Travis. We're more like, sex with benefits." He told him.

Travis' jaw hardened. Teeth grinded teeth. "Yeah? What's the benefit?"

"You've got a spare car with great mileage."

"Right."

Travis was so easy-going most of the time, it was like he was permanently stoned. So much so that it was hard to remember how he looked like angry. But there it was now – face as open as a dead bolted window, teeth screwed together so tightly it was a wonder he could talk at all.

Travis pointed a finger in his direction. "You know, for all your complainin' about your shit dad, you're not much different, are you?"

Jonny took a deep breath. The dust threatened a sneeze, but he forced it down by sheer willpower. "I am nothing like that asshole."

"Really? You said he left people in ditches when he was done with them. Sounds like you. You said he never thought about anybody except himself. That's you. You said he was a mean son of a bitch who had a stone of a heart, and guess what? That's starting to look more and more like you too. How many checked boxes does that make?"

He crossed his arms. He wanted to look like he was in control of the situation, like he was cool, calm, and collected, but underneath his skin was anger boiling so hot it felt like his skin was bursting out in welts from the effort to contain it.

"I'm going to give you two minutes to rethink your statement, Travis."

"What are you going to do, scratch my eyes out?" Travis sneered, looking up and down him. "Can't say I'm too scared, man."

He counted to ten for good measure. "I'm going to walk out of here, and you can forget ever talking to me again."

He waited. Waited for his own anger to boil down into a simmer, and Travis to think it out. He watched Travis' face as it broadcasted all his internal conflicts. Wanting to have it out with Jonny – maybe even hit him – and that would hurt since he had at least thirty pounds on Jonny, warring with what? Worry that Jonny would run off? Stop their relationship. Now that was a lark. How do you break off something that wasn't even there in the first place? Theirs was a transaction; no more, no less.

In the end, the bravado drained away and Travis sighed, dropping heavily back onto the mattress. "Y'know, they're right. You really are a user."

"Who said that?" He demanded.

Travis just shrugged wearily. "Who cares?" Then it clicked, and he screwed his eyes shut. "Don't worry. It's not anyone who can hurt your fucking precious reputation. You're more than enough to do that."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Should figure that's the only thing you care about."

"It's not the only thing I care about."

"Your dog doesn't count, Jonathon."

"Whatever." He snapped the latch on his watch. A faint layer of dust clung to his shoulders, and he dusted it off. "I'll be borrowing the car."

It wasn't a question.

He was about to go when Travis stopped him with a hesitant, "Hey, listen."

When he turned back, all his insecurities were displayed on his face, like an episode of Oprah back before they pulled it off the airs for being sickeningly emotional.

"You're gonna be back, right?" Travis asked.

"Sure." He answered smoothly, since it wasn't a lie. "I gotta go meet the old hag now. She set up a meeting with mam, spouting some bullshit about missing me. I'll call you, alright?"

Travis' face broke into a relieved smile, a heartbreaking textbook example of emotional dependency, assuming you had a heart that could be broken. "Yeah, okay. Sorry about all that, really."

"Don't worry about it."

"We're alright, right?"

"Of course."

"Okay. That's great. See ya around, Jonny."

Jonny smiled and left.


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A/N: Okay, back to the exams that I mentioned. Be back in a month, silent readers! Critic thus far? Yay/nay/I-hate-this-bitch?