Authors: Kaje Harper
Tags: #M/M Romance, Love is an Open Road, gay romance, contemporary, musicians/rock stars, visual arts, in the closet, F2M transgender, family, men with pets, tattoos
Carlos tipped his own up and chugged the last quarter. “Yeah.”
“Which means getting up.”
“Getting up, not getting
Carlos nudged him hard. “Jerk. You go.”
“I went last time.”
“I don’t want more beer enough to get up.”
Nate smiled behind his bottle. “Me neither.”
They sat there, doing nothing, just leaning on each other. It should have been awkward, but somehow it wasn’t. Nate set his bottle down, and began tracing the dagger tattoo on Carlos’s arm again, this time the one with no scar. Some of the lines weren’t inked as cleanly as they should have been.
“You keep doing that.” Carlos didn’t sound unhappy though.
“Sorry. Parts of it are cool, parts make me want to get out a pen and make corrections.”
“Maybe if I get more ink, you can design it for me.”
“Would you?” Nate looked up and down that lean brown body, imagining what he would design. “Get more, I mean?”
“Maybe. Probably not. I’m saving my money for important stuff.”
Carlos shrugged. “Food. Rent.”
“Come on. You work a real job. You can’t be that broke.”
“Gas. Guitar strings. Hormones.”
“It’s no big. But I’m not getting more ink just to have ink. Or to give you practice designing it.” Carlos folded his arms behind his head again, emphasizing the muscles of his shoulders and upper arms. “Maybe if you come up with a perfect design then I’ll think about it.”
“Mm. A challenge.” Nate closed his eyes, then blinked them open again. “Oh, yeah, by the way. Eli asked me to let him know if you were coming over. He seriously wants to buy that song you wrote for him.”
“He does? Well, okay. Although y’know, if he’s going to pay me and put my name on it and all, I’d like to have a chance to polish it more. That was a pretty half-assed job.”
“Better than their drummer’s full-assed jobs.”
Carlos snickered. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t hard.”
“Unfortunately, neither am I.”
“Does everything go back to sex for you?”
“Only when I’m with a guy with a sexy back.” Nate winced at the crappy line. “Bleh.”
“Yeah, that was lame.” Carlos tackled him down to the bed, leaning over him, pinning his wrists. “And you’re impossible.”
“Actually, I’m pretty easy.”
Suddenly, as Carlos loomed over him, grinning, their eyes met, and something sucked the air out of the room. Nate couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, while Carlos’s smile faded to stillness, while he leaned in and gave Nate a kiss that was different from anything they’d shared before. It was light, and soft, closed-mouthed and open-eyed and dry, and yet Nate shook when it was done. Carlos brushed his mouth over Nate’s lips again. “You’re a good kind of easy. I like that in a guy.”
I like you too.
Instead of answering, Nate hooked an arm around Carlos’s neck and pulled him down. Carlos went with it, lying heavy and soft across Nate’s chest. After a while, Carlos whispered in his ear, “How many guys with sexy backs have you been with?”
“A few.” Nate nuzzled in against the damp skin of Carlos’s neck. “You’re working your way up to top ranking, though.”
“Just working?” Carlos brushed a kiss over his temple, then tugged his hair lightly. “What would it take to hit first place?”
“Get up and bring me a beer?”
Carlos laughed. “I guess you
easy. Coming up.” He eased out of Nate’s grip, stood and headed jock-harness-naked for the door.
Nate’s sweaty skin felt chilled without his living blanket. He tugged the covers free and pulled the sheet up over him. He listened as Carlos made a pit stop, then opened the fridge. There was a pause, and Carlos mumbled something Nate couldn’t catch, before he came back into the room. As Carlos reached the bed, Nate flipped down the sheet in invitation. “Get in and pay toll.”
Carlos did, passing him a can. “PBR is a pretty cheap toll.”
“I’m a cheap guy.”
“Who doesn’t have any ink. You don’t want to design for yourself? You have great skin.” Carlos set his beer beside the bed and ran his chilled hand over Nate’s chest.
“Hey, keep your ice fingers to yourself.” Nate pushed his hand away. “Yeah, I don’t have any tats because I know how much I change year to year. If you look at my sketchbooks, you’d think I was a different guy ten years ago. Imagine if I’d inked that shit on my body.”
“You might have wavy daggers with fake blood?”
“Far, far worse.” Nate leaned close to Carlos’s ear and whispered, “Dragons.”
“Hell, yeah.” Nate laughed. “There, now you know. I was a dragon-loving goth boy once. Drew them on everything. Looooved them. My big dark secret. How about you? What were you ten years ago?”
“I was a girl.”
“Well, that’s no secret.”
He said it flippantly, without thinking, and was startled to see a happy smile cross Carlos’s face. “It isn’t, is it? Not to you.”
“No.” If that was a good thing, he’d go along with it. “So you owe me another secret. Something really awful like mine. Embarrassingly awful.”
“Like being in a mariachi band?”
“I did. When I was fifteen Tía Lisa decided I should do something more useful than moping in my room playing lousy music on my guitar, and she volunteered me for a group one of my tío’s friends led.” Carlos’s voice sounded rueful but not unhappy. “It was a good reason to immediately get together with some other guys who were into metal, form our own band, and get out of the house more often.”
Carlos sipped his beer. “How come Eli didn’t rope you into his band? Do you play anything?”
“Nah. And he tried.” Nate shrugged. “I messed around on keyboard for a while. It took time away from doing art. I pretended to be really awful, and eventually he gave up.”
“And then formed a better band without you.”
“Yeah. No loss.”
“And here we are.” Carlos raised his can in salute, then drained it. “He’s got a shot, and you and I are amateur hour.”
Nate bit his lip so he wouldn’t snap back at that. He might not be some famous artist, but he wasn’t a fucking amateur. He’d sold some canvases, and quite a few sketches. For cheap, but they’d been real sales. After a moment he said, “What makes you think we’re not going anywhere?”
“Sorry. I get all gloomy on beer.” Carlos added, “Hey!” as Nate took the can out of his hand.
“You don’t get to be gloomy in my bed.” He set the can beside his own. “Anyway, aren’t you playing the same Battle of the Bands venue he is next week? Which means you have a shot too?”
“My band’s shot depends on keeping my bass guitarist away from booze, pot and speed, for hours, until we get done with our set. Any odds?”
“Mm. Not great. Although better in a Seattle club than an Oly house.” Drugs were always around the edges of the music scene, but at some Olympia house venues, they were front and center.
“We’re doing an Oly house tomorrow. He needs to be sober for that too.”
“I’ve seen a lot of guys play pretty wasted,” Nate offered, hunting for comfort. He didn’t know Carlos’s bandmate, but he already hated him for the way Carlos’s tone went cold and bleak.
“Well, maybe he can be half sober. I’m not giving up, but I’m having a moment of Eli-envy.”
“Shit, man, I know how
is. I spent my teen years locked in permanent Eli-envy. I used to fantasize about putting superglue on his toothbrush or shaving his head while he was asleep. Except the creep had to be a really nice guy, too, so I could never stay mad long enough.”
“So what about you?” Nate figured three dates together, well, three rounds of sex with extras, entitled him to a little more personal curiosity. “Any brothers or sisters?”
Carlos was silent long enough that Nate was going to withdraw the question, when he said, “Four older brothers. Two younger sisters.”
“That’s a houseful,” Nate said lightly, responding to Carlos’s tension. Carlos was one smart, sexy guy, but he wasn’t restful. “I guess I should be glad I’ve only got one.”
“Mm.” Carlos reached across Nate, their chests brushing as he snagged his beer back. Nate let him have it. Carlos took a long swallow. “I was born in Mexico. Papá’s from Colombia, but he moved to Puebla when he was a teenager, and then he met Mamá and married her. He works at the Tecnológico; she raised us kids.”
Carlos paused, but he didn’t change the subject. Nate couldn’t read his expression, so he went for something bland. “Seven kids. That’s a full-time job.”
“Yeah. When I was little, everyone figured I was just trying to be like all my older brothers. They thought it was cute, how I hated dresses and tried to cut my own hair short and wanted to be a baseball player. Then my sister Leticia was born, and suddenly I was supposed to be the big sister and quit messing around pretending to be a boy.”
“Ouch.” Nate laid his hand on Carlos’s leg. The muscle and hair and strength were all male, and he tried and failed to picture this man as a girl.
“Yeah. Then Mamá had another girl, Silvia. I insisted I was one of the boys. My parents refused to consider such a thing. We fought a lot, but as a kid I didn’t have much power. So I fought mean.”
Nate rubbed lightly, tracing the line of Carlos’s hip, managing not to come out with some platitude about not being mean. If Carlos wanted to talk, he was happy to listen. He could feel the tension in Carlos’s body under his fingers.
“Like, when I was seven, we were going to church for the youngest of my brothers’ first communion and five minutes before we headed out the door, I got a pair of scissors and cut up every dress I owned. I announced that I’d have to wear one of my brother’s suits, because all my sisters’ stuff was too small.”
Nate winced. Even his own mom would
have been okay with that. “I bet it went over well.”
“They made me wear one of my mother’s dresses, pinned up. Then I rolled in the mud in it, behind the church after the mass.”
Nate snorted, trying to keep it light, although he could picture a young Carlos, the desperation and determination that would take. “I can see you doing that. Stubborn.”
“I couldn’t stop. I just couldn’t be a girl.” Carlos’s voice thinned. “By the time I was ten, my folks gave up on me, and sent me off to live with Tía Lisa and Tío Ramón in California. That’s who really raised me.”
“Permanently? Your parents
gave you away
?” It wasn’t like Nate didn’t know that stuff happened. He’d met a couple of guys who’d been kicked out of their homes for being gay. But Carlos had been
“Well, kind of. It was the best thing all around, really. Tía Lisa’s a California girl. It took her a while to wrap her head around who I was, but when she did, she didn’t try to have me exorcised or make me wear a dress.”
“Do you see your parents at all?”
Nate regretted the question when Carlos stared down at Nate’s hand, his lips pressed in a thin line. “No. Not for years now. They say they had a daughter, not a son. They don’t know me.”
“I’m sorry.” Nate leaned in harder. He wanted to offer a hug, but there was something so fragile about Carlos’s expression that he didn’t dare. “Now,
folks can’t get rid of me. I was supposed to live here over the garage for my four years of undergrad and then move out. But I’m still here. They’ll need explosives to move me out.”
Carlos lifted his head to glance around. “If my place was this nice, I’d never leave either.”
“It’s not a bad deal for them. I do pay rent, and I watch the house and babysit the dogs if my folks want to travel.”
Nate was filled with a rush of affection for his parents, and a deep welling tenderness for Carlos. What would that be like, to be sent away when you were just a kid because your parents didn’t like who you really were? He leaned over and kissed Carlos’s neck, deliberately wet and hard. He sucked up a mark, then moved lower to his shoulder, licking, nibbling.
“Trying to start something?” Carlos’s tone was lighter.
“I wish. I think you broke my dick.”
“You were doing the shoving. If it’s broke, you did it. I was just kneeling there.”
Nate was hit with the vision of Carlos on his knees, thighs spread and braced, the cleft of his raised ass shiny with lube. His dick actually twitched before giving up again. “So you were. It was so—”
Carlos wrapped an arm around him and pulled him down, turning them into a loose spoon wrapped around Nate with Nate’s ass against his thighs. Nate had meant to hold him, but this worked too. “Do you have to go home soon?” Nate asked. “Or can you stay a while?”
That isn’t too much like begging, right?
It had been a long time since he’d been held like this. Of all people, he surely knew it didn’t mean anything, but it felt so damned
“I can hang out for a while.”
“Stay the night?”
There was a long silence. Nate had pretty much resigned himself to seeing Carlos leave, when he leaned up instead, reached over, and switched off the light. “I guess maybe. G’night dragon-boy.”
Nate wriggled back harder against him and gave Carlos’s arm that snugged across his chest a pinch. “Shut up, Mariachi boy.”
Carlos’s low chuckle against the back of his neck in the dark felt new, and exciting, and yet somehow wholly familiar.
An hour later though, he was woken by Carlos moving around the room in the dark. He fumbled for the light switch and blinked at seeing Carlos half-dressed, pulling on his shirt. “Hey. Wazzup?” He rubbed his sticky eyes.
“I can’t sleep. I’m gonna head out.” Before Nate could get too pissed, Carlos came over and bent to kiss him apologetically. “I’ve never managed to share a bed with anyone. It’s not you. Will I see you at the show tomorrow?”
“Maybe, if I need to put Eli further in my debt. But you should call him about the song lyrics. I was going to ask him to come over here in the morning.”
“Don’t have his number,” Carlos said, already reaching for the door handle. “Tell him he can play it, and I’ll meet up with him after the show.”