The Way Men Say I Love You
“You do know ‘x-out’ is not a legitimate computer term.” Jeremy whispered, his mouth close enough to Mark’s ear to move the tiny, curly hairs at his temple. He was rewarded with a shiver, but still got pushed away.
“Shut it.” Mark’s elbow jabbed him in the ribs making him grin and step back. “Okay, so you’ve got the right window now?” Mark spoke into the phone, turning his back on Jeremy and moving his mouse pointer to the red ‘x’ at the top of his own screen. As Mark turned on his professional voice, Jeremy lost interest and wandered over to the couch to pick up the remote. Half an hour later, Mark finally hung up.
“That was your sister I was trying to help, Jeremy.” He said from across the room. The power button on the remote stuck when Jeremy clicked it, and the tv snapped on and off a few times before he got it unstuck.
“She’s even more computer illiterate than you are.”
“Can’t help the genes. What can I say?” He got up from the couch to lean on the back of Mark’s chair, but Mark swivelled to face him so fast, he had to grab onto the seated man’s shoulders to keep his balance.
“I suppose it’s a trial I’ll just have to bear.” Mark twined fingers into the front of Jeremy’s shirt. “Come here.”
The combination of his husky voice, his commanding tone, the deep desire in his eyes, stymied Jeremy’s first instinct to resist Mark’s kiss. It wasn’t lost on him that this had been his idea in the first place, but Mark’s assumption that he’d give in now somehow irritated him.
“Yeah, well,” Jeremy swallowed as he pulled away and bit his lip, annoyed with himself. He’d completely lost track of what he’d been about to say. Mark had damnably deep brown eyes that could distract him from just about anything.
“Well?” Mark’s hand found his waist, and then his fingers slipped through his belt loop.
Jeremy didn’t have the leverage he needed to resist the yank that brought him off his feet and into the other man’s lap. The chair swayed back precariously
“Wanna fuck?” Mark’s eyes twinkled and his voice vibrated the hairs on Jeremy’s neck so that he felt it in his groin.
“No.” the word he barked out was hoarse and almost incoherent under a harsh, croaking cough. He scrambled away from the hands that had somehow already groped their way beneath both his sweatshirt and t-shirt.
He didn’t want to fuck. Not the way Mark meant it, because Mark didn’t actually mean it. For Mark, it was just lust on a boring Sunday morning. Anyone could see the evidence of it clearly through his loose pyjama trousers.
“I’m going out.” Without stopping to think about why he was so agitated, Jeremy snatched his jacket off its hook on the back of the door and dodged out of the apartment.
It was too early on a Sunday morning for anything but the coffee shop on the corner to be open. He didn’t go there. If Mark got it into his head to be persistent, which sometimes happened, he didn’t want to be where his roommate could easily find him. Instead, he decided to head across the street to the park.
Cold spring air hit him hard as he walked out the front door of the building. It was like breathing through a wet towel, and a plug of phlegm wedged itself into the back of his throat. His shoes squelched and sloshed through the thick slush. Despite the bright spring sunshine, his fingers chilled quickly and he stuffed them as deep as he could into the pockets of his thin coat. He walked until he found a table out of sight of their apartment building and dropped onto the mostly dry bench.
He didn’t know what was wrong with him. He could have spent a pleasant few hours rolling his roommate over in the big bed and the sunshine that streamed into Mark’s back room. Instead, he was here, trying to breathe the cold damp air and not to think about it.
The park was practically deserted. Joggers, dog-walkers, and him; no one else used it, which was why he liked it. It was peaceful, and no one bothered you if you didn’t want them to.
He watched a young woman about his own age jog past with a big black dog trotting obediently by her side. She smiled brightly at him. He tried to return the greeting but judging by the look she shot back over her shoulder, he failed. It didn’t matter. A few moths ago, before Mark and his insatiable lust, it might have. Now, he could always go back to the apartment and Mark. Trouble was, Mark wasn’t the type to hang any hopes on. Growling, he was about to get up and keep walking when arms draped over his shoulders, and Mark’s hands clasped their long slim fingers together in front of his chest, pulling him back down onto the bench. The shock of the unexpected presence made him gasp and then sputter on the cold air.
“I love the stink of springtime in the morning. Don’t you?”
It took a few minutes for Jeremy’s heart to quit its thrumming. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t try to get up, but he didn’t relax against the hard muscles of Mark’s chest, either.
“Why’d you take off?” Mark’s wet tongue flicked against his ear, making him flinch.
“Don’t” He pried at Mark’s fingers, but the man hung on tenaciously. “Let go.”
“Just. . .”
“C’mon!” Mark pulled him close. His strong arms felt too good, even through the many layers of clothing. “What’s got you so freaked?”
Jeremy yanked Mark’s arms apart and slid off the table. “I’m not freaked.” Not the best lie he’d ever come up with, but he couldn’t explain it. He could barely breathe as it was, never mind telling Mark their casual sex had lost its appeal when he’d started taking it more seriously than the computer tech ever would.
He hurried off down the path in the faint hope Mark wouldn’t pursue the matter, or him. His shoes slapped wetly against the pavement as he splashed through puddles. Cold water soaked through the canvas and into his socks. He picked up his pace when he heard Mark’s footsteps sounding after him.
“Hey!” Mark called as he turned off the path and set out across the snow-covered grass. Mark shouted again, but his words were lost in the wet sloshing of Jeremy’s footsteps and the sounds of traffic as he neared the road. He didn’t slow.
Keeping his head down as he left the park he crossed the busy street, headed toward the coffee house. He didn’t acknowledge Mark’s shouts, but entered the shop and let the door swing closed. It momentarily cut off the sound of the other man’s voice. Inside, the place was warm and smelled of roasted beans and cinnamon rolls.
“Hey Jer.” The young man behind the counter smiled and winked at him. Three years Jeremy had been coming here just to admire the guy and he only started flirting after Jeremy had discovered the benefits of having a live-in fuck buddy in Mark.
“Hey, Paul.” Jeremy slumped onto a stool at the counter as Paul pulled an extra large cup from the stack and filled it for him. The sound of the dark stream hitting the bottom of the cardboard mug soothed Jeremy’s nerves a bit. Steam curled over the white rolled rim of the cup and down across Paul’s brown fingers. Those fingers fascinated Jeremy as he watched them push the cup across the counter.
“So, how are things in barista land?” Jeremy took the drink, noticing Paul’s fingers lingered longer than necessary as he handed it over. He tried not to stare at the other man’s hands as Paul went about his business of wiping the counter down.
“Oh fine.” Paul leaned across the counter. “You ditch the dodo yet?”
Jeremy only managed a weak smile as Mark slammed into the small shop and Paul straightened up. He shook his head, full of mock disappointment. “You know, you really have to do something about that, Jer.”
“Limbo’s no place to live, my friend.”
“I know.” Jeremy tossed some money on the counter and stood to go. “But I’m kind of stuck.”
“You’re kind of fucked, is what you are.”
Jeremy laughed at the appropriateness of the comment but it turned into a bout of coughing that had both men eyeing him doubtfully for a moment.
“Actually,” Mark looked at him slyly, “he’s not. He took off this morning before we got that far.”
“Oh, very nice. Asswipe,” Jeremy muttered, hurrying for the door. He was determined to get out of the shop before anyone said anything else.
Mark tossed him a wounded expression as he left. “Where’s mine?”
“Your what?” Jeremy tried to keep his expression bland against Mark’s pout, but the words bubbled out and he grimaced at the muddy sound of his own voice.
Mark seemed not to notice. “C’mon, man. You know I’d spring for you.”
“Fine.” If it would keep him in the coffee house for a few minutes, it was worth the expense. He tossed a twonie at him and dodged out the door before it was too late. Of course, with Mark, the first kiss had been too late. It was only a matter of minutes and less than the block it took to get back to their building before he heard the slap of the other man’s feet on the sidewalk behind him. He just didn’t have the breath to hurry his pace any more. Still, he stubbornly kept his mouth shut on the elevator as it carried them up to their third floor apartment.
Jeremy got to their door first, and once inside, he turned, intent on getting the other man off his back. The snarl died on his lips. Mark’s face was drawn in pain, and he was hopping gingerly from foot to foot. Jeremy looked down.
“Are you an idiot?” he blurted. Mark only shrugged and kicked off his sodden slippers. “God damn. Sit down.” Mark perched on the edge of the coffee table and Jeremy knelt beside him, putting down his coffee to pick up one of Mark’s feet and cup the reddened toes. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“I was thinking you lit out of here like your hair was on fire, and I thought maybe it was something I said.”
“So you ran after me in your slippers and pyjamas.”
Mark only shrugged, as there was little he could say in his own defence.
“You want to tell me what the hell’s going on with you today?” Mark asked after a moment of basking in Jeremy’s contempt.
“Nothing,” Jeremy snapped, pushing the foot aside and picking up the other.
“You’re not turning all tight-ass on me are you?”
“I thought it was my tight ass you loved so much.”
The hurt look Mark shot him confirmed the comment sounded as bitter as it had tasted, but he couldn’t take it back.
“I-” Mark shrugged. “It’s a nice ass.”
Jeremy stood. “Fuck you.”
Mark followed him up, protesting all the way. “Oh come on. You said it.”
“And you’re an asshole.” He tried to make an exit, but Mark stopped him, grabbing his arm and turning him around as he passed.
“What is your problem? It’s not like we’ve never done it before, and now you get all pissy on me. It’s just sex, not the end of the world.”
He’d known Mark felt that way, but actually hearing him say it slammed the breath from Jeremy. He wanted to vomit or maybe hit something. He thought he should leave, but now Mark was between him and the door. He couldn’t get out of the apartment without going through him, and he didn’t trust himself to keep his temper.
“Talk to me.”
“Just tell me what the big deal is all of a sudden.”
“I’d rather fuck you. I though we had that established.”
Not normally a volatile person, Jeremy wasn’t quite sure what made him swing, but the shock of his fist connecting with Mark’s jaw snapped him out of the anger as quickly as he’d entered it. He was caught in a soup of slow motion as Mark’s head snapped back and he stumbled against the door. Hot coffee from the cup he was still holding splashed over the walls, the door, the floor and both men. As Jeremy moved to steady him, Mark’s arm came up over his head protectively. Jeremy froze. For a moment, Mark sagged against the door; then he let himself slide to the floor with a grunt where he sat on the soggy welcome mat and felt his lip carefully.
“Shit.” He looked a little bewildered at the blood on his fingers.
“I’m sorry.” Jeremy crouched, reached out a hand, but stopped when Mark glared at him. The need to vomit rose again, more urgent, and his throat and chest tightened. “God, Mark, I’m so sorry.”
“Get off.” Mark pushed his hands away. “Just back the fuck off.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“I’m not into this shit.” Hauling himself to his feet, Mark picked Jeremy’s coffee up as he passed the table. “I’ll be in my room.”
“Mark.” Startled by his need to keep the other man from walking away, and hampered by his tight airways, Jeremy couldn’t say anything more. He must look a jerk, begging for it then rejecting it, and now begging again.
“You know what, Jeremy, whatever.” Mark waved a hand vaguely in the air. “You don’t want to do it any more, you should have just said. It’s not that big a deal.”
“It is to me.” The words weren’t very loud, wheezed out around Jeremy’s struggle to pull breath into his lungs. It was a moment before he realized Mark was staring at him.
“What?” Mark demanded at last.
“I-” Jeremy didn’t think he could say it again. Even if he could have found the breath to speak, he didn’t think he had the nerve.
“Where’s your puffer?” The question confused Jeremy. He’d just made a major confession, and Mark was worried about medication Jeremy hadn’t used in months.
“Jesus shit, Jeremy, where’s your puffer?” His voice rose around the words, tight and too loud.
Jeremy waved toward his room. He’d likely left it on his dresser. It had been a long time since he’d bothered to take it anywhere.
Mark disappeared for a minute, then was back, shoving the inhaler past Jeremy’s lips into his mouth and placing his hand over the canister. “Here.” He pressed lightly on Jeremy’s fingers. “You’re going to be fine.” He sounded much calmer now.
Jeremy pushed on the little metal tube and the medication drifted into his mouth, the nasty taste reminding him to inhale. It spread down to his lungs, and finally, he could push something out. From a distance, he could hear Mark counting then felt him pressing on his fingers again. He took another puff, his mind clearing a bit as the tight bands of constriction eased and air came more easily.
“Sit.” Mark led him to the sofa and pushed him down onto the cushions, still counting. “Another puff, come on.”
Jeremy inhaled again obediently.
“I want to lie down.” He was tired, and he tried to lie back on the couch, but Mark wouldn’t let him.
“No. Just sit here a while.” The cushions next to him sank and he tipped a little to find Mark’s warm strength ready to hold him up. “It’s going to be ok. Just sit for a bit.” Incredibly, Mark was petting him, lightly brushing a hand over his hair again and again. It made him giggle. “Shut up.”
After a few minutes had passed and Jeremy could breathe with something approaching adequacy, he sat up a little straighter. “I’m sorry.”
“You could have died.” Mark’s voice was unexpectedly hard.
“It was just an asthma attack. Clam down.”
“Calm down.” A tight little grunt escaped Mark’s chest. “There’s no such thing as ‘just’ not being able to breathe, you idiot.”
“It’s not like I meant it to happen.”
“You didn’t take it with you.”
“What?” He knew lack of oxygen to the brain made things blurry, but he wasn’t that confused. Mark wasn’t making any sense.
“Your puffer.” Grabbing the device from Jeremy, he waved it in front of his face. “You took off out of here and you didn’t take it with you.” He threw it, hard, against Jeremy’s chest. Too slow to catch it, Jeremy let the inhaler bounce down to the floor at their feet and land with a soft thump on the rug. “What if this had happened in the park? Or the coffee shop?”
Jeremy sighed. “It didn’t.”
“But it could have.”
“Stop it. You sound like my mother.”
“She’s a nag.”
“She loves you.” A long, frail silence filled the space between them. Jeremy’s wheezing wasn’t enough to fill it. He was beginning to think nothing would fill it when Mark finally spoke. “I swear, if you ever leave this house without it again, you stupid, dumb fuck, I will kill you myself.”
“Stupid and dumb?” Jeremy breathed.
“Yes.” Mark turned, lifting a leg up and wrapping it around Jeremy, using it to pull him back against his chest. “Stupid and dumb,” he replied, very softly. “And very, very important to me. I am not interested in finding a new roommate, or looking for anyone else to spend my Sunday mornings with.” Jeremy let him hook an arm around his shoulders too, and pull him closer. “And as hot as he might be, the dude at the coffee shop only wants one thing from you, and your ass is mine, so stay away from him. He’s not worthy.”
“Oh.” Had his interest in the coffee guy been that apparent?
“Yeah, I noticed.”
“I didn’t think you cared.”
Jeremy twisted around in Mark’s grip. He knew he wore an idiot-like grin. It drew a smile from Mark that Jeremy wasn’t used to seeing. It was almost gentle, and it did unexpected things to Jeremy. “Now, we can fuck.” He sounded less alluring and more froglike than he intended, and Mark shook his head.
“You can’t even breathe, stupid.” Gently but firmly, Mark turned him back around to lean back again against his chest. “But don’t worry. I’ll remember you said it.” He picked up the remote and turned on the television. Jeremy settled comfortably in his arms, concentrating on breathing in the scent and feel of this new thing between them.