Michael is late, and objects to the lack of beard.
Originally published in our August 2015 newsletter
Michael’s late. John suspects that has less to do with train issues and more with Michael having not quite adjusted back to city life and schedules after a summer in the woods with a summerstock company. Or maybe he’s just not a punctual person when it comes to anything except work. Either way, John is amused and endeared, and watches the entrance to the restaurant as best he can from the table he’s gotten in the corner.
It takes John a moment to recognize Michael when he finally does arrive. Back at camp, with the brief exception of a date at a shitty gay bar in Richmond, Michael had worn shorts, baggy t-shirts, and had been barefoot more often than not. But the young man who’s just breezed in is strikingly city and stylish, in tight jeans, knee-high boots, and a fabulous shirt. He’s even got a gauzy scarf draped around his neck.
It takes Michael a moment to spot him, until John raises a hand and waves from the table, and then his face lights up and he strides across the room to him.
“Hi,” Michael says, not quite shyly, but not with his usually fluidity either. It all feels a little awkward, and as much as John wants to take Michael on a real date and knows that meeting for the first time in the city on neutral territory is the wiser option, he wishes he had just asked Michael to come over to his apartment.
“Hi. Did you find the place alright?”
“Uh-huh. Sorry I’m late.” Michael puts a hand on his shoulder and bends down to kiss John briefly before sliding into his seat.
John means to ask Michael how he is, but he’s distracted by the way Michael’s looking at him — head tilted and brow slightly furrowed, like he’s trying to work something out.
“…What?” John asks carefully.
“What happened to your beard?”
“I shaved.” John wonders if the moment of hesitation at the door was Michael failing to recognize him the same way John hadn’t immediately recognized Michael. It’s hilarious in its own way.
“Yes, but why.”
“Because beards are great for Shakespeare and exactly nothing else.”
Michael frowns. “I unprefer this look.”
“Well, stick around ‘til next summer. We’ll go back to the woods,” John smiles.
Dinner is lovely. It’s glorious now to have time together without the rest of the company around, but John still feels incredibly self-conscious every time someone walks by or the waiter stops at their table. Michael is bright and talkative as ever, telling John all the stories he’s accumulated since they let camp.
It’s only been a week, and they’ve talked on the phone and texted enough, but they spent an entire summer in each other’s pockets even while they were fighting. So the distance was strange and hard, and now Michael is right here in front of him, and it’s still weird and hard, just in a different way.
John’s relieved when they finish eating and he can finally lean forward to murmur, “So do you want to come over?”
The walk from the train isn’t short. That’s the problem with living somewhere without the bedrock subways require and a tendency to flood that has capped development. On the other hand, it’s dark and sparsely populated in that way that makes the rest of the world tense up but New Yorkers smile in the face of momentary privacy.
When they finally get there, two flights up in a mixed-use building that was once a 19th century perfume factory, John unlocks his door and then stands aside to let Michael in first. Michael steps in carefully and, apparently without even thinking about it, unwinds his scarf and drops it on the chair by the door. He brushes his fingers over the rough brick of the wall, feeling the blocks and the grout.
“I like it,” he says softly, once he turns a full circuit and faces John again. “But you can give me the tour later.” He steps in close to John, says “Kiss me?” and then backs into the loft.
“Bedroom?” John asks, just to be clear.
“Bedroom,” Michael says.
It’s not, actually, even a room. The space had been raw when John had rented it, and to the extent that it has rooms, they are largely the result of artfully arranged furniture. The bedroom is the exception, but even it doesn’t have a door, just a wall to keep it out of view of the rest of the apartment. John loves the unfinished nature of the space. It appeals not just to his sense of aesthetics, but the state of his life these last few years. That said, if he hadn’t built the wall, he would have to make his bed every day. And that was never, ever going to happen even before he had Michael to share it with.
Taking Michael out of his clothes takes longer than John is used to, and he has to kneel on the floor at the edge of his bed to deal with the boots.
“Do you need help?” Michael asks, when it takes John more than five seconds to figure out how they come off. “No, not those, those are just for show,” he says, batting John’s hands away from the, apparently decorative, buckles.
“I miss you barefoot.”
“I miss you with a beard.” Michael finally takes John’s hand and guides his fingers to the hidden zipper behind his knee.
Once the damn boots are off and the skintight jeans are gone, John sits back on his heels to run his hands up and down Michael’s bare calves, relishing the touch of skin and the way Michael watches him, eyes already dreamy as he shoves his hands into John’s hair.
“You don’t want to be on top?” John asks, surprised, when he finally crawls up on the bed and Michael just flops back under him, wriggling his shoulders into the comforter.
“You always want to be on top.”
“At camp. When I am not terrified of being stabbed through the spine by a dodgy mattress spring there are way more possibilities.
Michael’s so slight that it’s easy to scoop an arm under his back when John wants their bodies closer. When he does, Michael wraps his legs around John’s waist and lets his head fall back, all tan and gold in the lamplight. And while the chance of being overheard never stopped them from being loud back in the woods, John likes that Michael isn’t quiet even without the potential of an audience.
It feels stunningly private, without the nagging awareness that at any moment an irate cabinmate could come banging on his door. And the silence of the city — so different from the silence of the woods, with its birds and bugs and wind — muffles his awareness of everything else until all he can see is Michael.