“Cody,” was all Peter could say.
“Aren’t you going to give me a hug?”
“What do you want.”
Cody’s smile grew wider. He knew what this tone of voice meant in Peter.
“I just want a hug.” Cody opened his arms, and Peter found himself automatically doing what he’d always done with Cody, giving in again. He could feel a little of himself being sucked away as he did.
Peter flashed back to a night in the “Cody Era” of his life. Outside school, a fellow student had flirted with him, made him feel…attractive, special, interesting. Then Cody had come along, glowered at the guy, drove him away.
“You like that?” Cody snorted. “Man, you’ll sleep with anyone if you think that’s hot.”
“I…” Peter wanted to protest, to say, but he’s nice, he’s kind of cute, and he likes me… But Cody’s words had the desired effect, reminded him what a little rabbit he was, how desperate he was for affection, and the young man had been nice, but he had crooked teeth, didn’t he, and shiny skin, nothing like Cody, so of course he was into me, he couldn’t do any better, could he…
Cody sulked. “You like that better than you like me?”
“Give me a hug. I need a hug.” A demand. Cody didn’t give hugs, only took them. And Peter gave him one, of course.
Nothing’s changed there, Peter now thought glumly.
“See, was that so bad?” Cody said after they parted. “So what have you been up to?”
“Cool, me too. I’ve been doing really well, been doing some nightclub promoting, got some other projects going, yeah, doing really well.”
“Do you live in New York now?”
“Yeah…yeah, just moved here.” Peter couldn’t take his eyes off Cody’s face, his amazing A&F model-like beauty, and Cody’s eyes glittered as they always had when he was about to take Peter, use him, have at him…
A small animal cried out inside Peter, no, not again.
“So are you going to invite me up?” Cody asked, lifting an eyebrow.
Peter fumbled for an excuse, saying “No” was just not something he ever thought of saying to Cody until later, too late. “I have a long day tomorrow…”
“Just let me talk to you for a few minutes, we should catch up, it’s been so long.”
He could barely believe it. Cody acted as if their relationship had been so ordinary, so…normal. All this “hey, how’s it going, long time no see,” as if Cody hadn’t left Peter sobbing on the floor, only Cody’s instinct for self-preservation keeping him from hitting Peter.
This was what Peter remembered most about Cody. How he would just wear you down. How he’d ask for a hundred bucks, and you’d say you didn’t have it, and he’d say I really need it, and you’d say no, and he’d sulk, a black thundercloud that just sucked all the moisture out of you until finally you just gave in, no more fight in you…
“Okay,” he said finally. Because otherwise this dance would go on and on, Cody a master at its steps, always parrying, parrying anything Peter said until he got his way. The only way to save any energy he had left after these “Cody dances” was to give in early, before he was ground down to the point where he couldn’t even get out of bed the next day.
A self-protective fatalism kicked in as they rode up the elevator to Peter’s apartment, as Cody chatted about what a big deal he’d become in the world of nightclubbing, something something Kanye something VIP something bottle service. Peter nodded, relieved that he didn’t have to speak, knowing Cody would talk about himself forever, more than content for Peter to only listen.
“Hey, all right,” Cody said, looking around Peter’s apartment, inventorying it. “Nice place. Cinder block and plywood bookcases, that’s cute.” Peter flushed, the cheapness of his furnishings suddenly a source of shame.
Peter went to the kitchen and opened a bottle of wine. Wasn’t that part of the ritual, too, to reach for the anesthetic the minute Cody started on him. He poured himself a glass, but this time, something rebelled. Instead of pouring Cody a glass, as he always had, he walked away.
“Help yourself,” he said.
Cody paused in his self-aggrandizement, surprised. “O, kay…” he said, in a tone that said, fine, be that way, I’ll be the better man. He took a glass, filled it, knocked the contents back – good stuff! Then he refilled it and followed Peter back into the living room.
Peter didn’t sit down, neither did Cody.
“What do you want, Cody.”
Cody put on the face of the practiced liar – eyes wide, eyebrows up, mouth open in indignation. “I just wanted to see you, man.”
“As you can see from my bookcases, I don’t have any money.”
Something flickered in Cody’s eyes, a cruel knowing laughter that made Peter’s guts clench. HE KNOWS, a voice said inside him. Impossible, he replied. Nobody knows, but the people I trust.
“I don’t need your money, Peter. I’m doing good, really good.” He set the wine glass down, moved towards Peter, took the glass from his hand. “I just wanted to see you,” he whispered, coming in close, the heat of him making Peter weak.
This is what you deserve, the hands on the shoulders shoving you to the ground, the hands on your head making you choke on his cock, the words of abuse, all of it…
But one thing was different now. Matt. Matt had been in there, deep inside Peter’s mind, where Cody was trying to get now, Matt had taken his tool kit and made an adjustment. The engine was still not right, but it wasn’t as wrong as it had been. It was road-worthy, anyway.
“No,” Peter said, backing away.
This time Cody was really shocked. “What? Do you have a boyfriend now?” The arched eyebrow, barely believing it possible.
“No,” he found himself saying. Knowing somehow that it was the right thing to do. To hide his relationship with Matt from Cody, to keep it away from Cody’s destructive influence. To reveal Matt’s existence to Cody would be to go there, to listen to Cody’s twenty questions, picking his relationship apart as he’d unravel a sweater, methodically, effectively turning it into a pile of useless yarn, brainwashing Peter into believing, knowing, that he didn’t deserve Matt…
Cody threw his hands up. “Okay. No problem. Too fast, that’s cool,” he said lightly, the implication as always that they would be in bed eventually, because that’s what Cody wanted, and Cody always got what he wanted once he’d worn Peter down.
“I need to go to sleep. It’s late.”
“Okay, man. I’ll call you.”
“You don’t have my number.”
“Oh, right,” Cody said hastily. “But you still have the same phone number, right?”
“Yeah.” No use in lying about that.
At the door, it finally occurred to Peter. “How did you know where I live?”
There it was again, that malicious glee. “The Internet is a thing of beauty, Peter.” Then he was gone.
Peter closed the door, picked up his wine glass with trembling fingers. I’ll cash the ticket, he thought crazily. And I’ll buy an island, and hire an army to protect it, and Cody will never get to me again.
But that was crazy talk, that was the wine talking. Cody was back, like a cancer no longer in remission. There was nothing he could do about it. As always, just thinking about Cody made him tired. He just wanted to sleep, and wake up, and realize this was just a bad, bad dream.
He wanted to pick up the phone, to call Matt, to tell him everything. Yeah, right! Tell him how weak you are, how you let Cody walk all over you, how you’re still letting him. What, so he can go…beat Cody up? He laughed. That would be nice.
No, he said to himself, pouring another huge glass of wine. I can handle this. The Ring is my burden. I won’t do that to Matt, I won’t put this on him, I won’t make him worry and suffer and get in trouble defending me.
Because Peter knew that Matt would do it – Matt would be his knight in shining armor, Matt would solve it for him. And then what? Then I’m nothing but a lady hanging out of a tower screeching help, help, save me from the dragon, I’m so helpless? Who wants that? Do you think Matt of all people wants to be with someone like that?
Somehow he’d manage. He’d always managed, on his own. He’d do it this time, too.
“Thanks,” James said to Matt as he shook his hand, again, holding it a little longer this time.
“My pleasure. She’ll run like new for quite a while.” He’d loved working on the old Merc, and James had given him carte blanche on the expenses, trusting Matt not to rip him off. And Matt had torn that mother down, pulled all the different brands of aftermarket parts that had been patched into the engine over the years, put in top of the line shit, remade her.
“If there’s anything I can do for you…” James purred, handing Matt his card face down to show the private number written on the back.
“Thanks. I’d like to take my boyfriend to a Giants game this fall, if you’ve still got those tickets.”
James laughed, acknowledging defeat. “Of course.” Then they both laughed, knowing that what James really meant was, of course you have a boyfriend.
It was happening again, Matt thought with a rueful smile, breaking for a late lunch after watching James drive off. He walked down the streets and pulled his ball cap down low, masking his eyes, half his face, but New York City could tell – he was FUCKING HORNY. Lust was steaming off him, pheromones pumping into the air, and the men of New York knew it, could sniff it out.
Back when he’d had the office job, he’d go home on a Friday night, take care of shit, and then, when it was finally late enough to go out to the bars, he’d change into pants that showed off his cock and go find a willing victim’s ass to pulverize. He’d throw them down on his bed and fuck them as if his life depended on it, and maybe it did. Everyone was cruising him all the time back then, everyone could see he was on the prowl, always ready.
Then he’d found his new life, and what he’d thought was insatiable lust was revealed to him as frustration, desperately seeking the only outlet available – the one so easily available to a man with his looks, physique and endowment. And when his life changed, and he started walking the streets with a calm face, a slow stride, a sweet smile, pleasantly exhausted from a good day’s work, men’s eyes started skating over him – registering his looks, acknowledging them, but then seeing that he wasn’t on the hunt, would be more effort for willing prey than it was worth in a city full of hunters.
But now he was burning again, and men looked at him with the question in their eyes. Fuck, Peter! I need your ass! He couldn’t believe how vivid the memory of that night was, how insanely fast he got rock hard just thinking of Peter’s legs in the air, the perfect shape of his smooth tight little buttocks, the look in his feverish eyes…
Matt was sure he was what Peter needed. Not time, not distance, no – he needed Matt on top of him, around him, inside him. I wouldn’t even fuck him with my monster cock, just put it in there like…he laughed. Like a meat thermometer, in reverse, raising Peter’s internal temperature, as if that could fill the hole inside Peter forever.
He took a window seat at his favorite sandwich joint and cracked his book, unaware how devastating the sight was to passersby, a gorgeous man in a mechanic’s uniform drinking his coffee and intently reading H. W. Brands’ FDR biography, ‘Traitor to His Class.’
“Can I join you?”
Matt looked up at the good-looking young guy, cup and plate in hand. The place was packed, and Matt was at a table for two. He nodded. “Be my guest.” Then returned back to his book, the message clear: Not Interested.
After a few minutes, the man spoke. “Is that you?”
Matt lowered the book, took another look. He was pretty, but in a sour sort of way that turned Matt off. He had a self-assurance that looked like it was based only on his generically attractive appearance. He looked like he was laughing at something only he knew, and Matt hated that.
“Is what me?”
“Are you a traitor to your class?”
“Why do you say that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, you look like you went to private school, lived a good life. Didn’t come up hard. And now you’re…doing what you do.”
“And that makes me a traitor?”
“Well, yeah. Why would anyone walk away from money if they didn’t have to?”
“Maybe there are more important things to do with your life than make money.”
“Sure, if you’ve already got it.”
Matt could feel it. There was something wrong here, some game being played. “Do I know you?”
Cody smiled. “No. But you will.” And he got up and left.
Matt watched him go, troubled. He didn’t have anything in his past that would raise a spectre like this. This had to have something to do with Peter, maybe with the lottery money. Maybe someone somewhere had blabbed, someone in the lawyer’s office, and this guy thought he had an angle. Was he a reporter? He looked crafty but not smart, so, maybe a reporter for a tabloid, the kind of job where being a no-conscience sleazeball was the most important qualification. Someone who’d been watching him and Peter? But how was that possible; they’d spent far too little time together. And what could Peter have in his past that would…
He could hear Terry’s voice, calming him back when he was learning, back when he’d get so frustrated that he wasn’t learning fast enough. Calm down. Take a step back. This is a problem that will have a solution. You won’t solve it by banging on it with a wrench.
Matt laid the parts out on the table in front of him, as he would with any other piece of machinery. Peter’s troubled past. The smirk on this asshole’s fucking smashable face, his barely concealed glee. He knew about Peter and Matt. He’d been watching them, spying on them.
The locks started to tumble in his head. Peter’s expectation of abuse, of rough, careless sex. His frightened mien. His reluctance to accept affection as natural, normal, deserved.
That fucking guy. He’s the one who fucked Peter up. Matt wanted to launch himself from the table, chase him down, bash his head into the pavement. It took all his self-control not to do it.
At least it’s not about the money. At least it’s still a secret about Peter’s winning lott….
And he knows about the money.
When you’ve solved enough problems, you doubt yourself less and less each time you make an intuitive leap to the solution. You know that you’re right. You know you’ve got it.
And usually that leads to a glowing sense of satisfaction, of personal triumph. But not for Matt, not this time.
Fuck. Peter! I have to…
You have to what? he asked himself. What if Peter already knows? What if…no. That’s not what he wants. I know it.
And if he doesn’t tell you about this guy coming back, what does that mean?
Matt could think of any number of things. That he’s scared, or that he thinks he can handle it himself…or that he wants to get back together with this prick.
No. He wouldn’t believe that.
He got up, left a good tip as always. Went back to work just to close down his station for the day. This wasn’t a problem he could solve on his own. He’d need to consult the experts.
He dialed a number from memory. “Young master Kensington,” Chadrick said in his exaggeratedly nasal voice. “How may I be of service.”
“Hey man. Are Guy and Ned with you?”
“Where else would they dare to be in the middle of a workday?”
“Perfect. I’m waving the old school tie, dude. I need you, all of you.”
Chad dropped the accent. “When and where?”
“Now. My place.”