Male-bonding and more on the night before Evan's brother's wedding.
Summary: Written for the prompt(s): Write about an experience you will never forget when you were either a driver or a passenger in a car.
“This is stupid,” I muttered, shifting as much as I could—as much as I dared, which wasn’t much—to try and get somewhat comfortable in the cramped and crowded confines of Drew’s Ford Taurus.
“I’m Dex, by the way,” said the guy whose lap I was sitting in. I glanced into his grinning face, partially shadowed by his baseball cap, and tried to smile gamely. But Drew, drunk as a lord, took a hard right turn at full speed. I nearly slid off of Dex’s lap and into the lap of the guy sitting next to him.
“I know. And I’m Evan,” I returned in a seasick croak, daring to brace my arm on the head-rest behind Dex, who apparently not one to beat around the bush, obligingly wrapped an arm around my waist.
“It’s cool,” he said, still grinning. “You can hold on to me.”
Sighing, I tried to accept this unexpected offer with as much grace as I could. “Thanks,” I mumbled, wrapping my arm around Dex’s neck, clutching at his shoulder. Then clutching tighter as Drew took a left, also without slowing down.
As the car barreled through the night, I took stock of my situation and wondered if I’d end the evening in the E.R. . . . or the morgue.
We were six, on average drunk guys, tear-assing through Flushing, on our way to Jackson Heights after an epic pub-crawl on my brother, Drew’s, last night of freedom. A traveling bachelor-party, of sorts. The night had been rowdy and fun—going from bar to bar, lounge to music venue, from six in the evening to whatever time it was now, in the wee, small hours.
Originally there’d been two cars ferrying us from place to place, but as the night wore on, Drew—even though he’d had the most to drink, being the man of honor—had been the only one of us still steady enough (and with a valid driver’s license) to drive.
So we’d left Joey Mattola’s car back in Flushing and all piled into Drew’s Taurus, then took off for a little-known local dive called The Tipperary Arms.
“There’s no better place to end my last night of freedom than the Arms.” Drew’d said sagely, then belched. Despite all the shots he’d done, he was still seemingly rock-steady. I chalked it up to him getting the German-half of our family’s constitution, along with their fair looks. I, on the other hand, had inherited the Costa Rican constitution, I spuppose, which was to say practically none at all. I’d been trashed enough on just eight shots to think that nine hundred drunk guys in a Ford Taurus was a sound idea.
But, as Drew took another turn, jumped the curb a little, and swore, I was sobering up unpleasantly fast.
“So,” Dex, my erstwhile cushion said, squeezing my waist to get my attention. I looked down into his dilated blue eyes and waited for him to go on. “Come here often?”
I rolled my eyes. “Only when my brother drives me places,” I replied drily, and he laughed.
“Not much of a driver, eh?”
“No,” I said firmly. “This is New York City . . . who needs to drive?”
And as if to punctuate my point, Drew jammed on the brakes at what I assumed was a light or a stop-sign.
“Well, I drive. Though I take the subway more often.” Dex snorted. “The insurance rates for Brooklyn are a killer, though. But my car’s my baby.”
“You’re from Brooklyn?” I asked the car lurched forward again, rocking me back against Dex’s chest.
“Born and raised.”
“Huh . . . how do you know my brother, then?”
“We went to L.I.U. together . . . everybody knew Drew Wahlmaker. He was the man,” Dex said fondly. I rolled my eyes.
“Still am the man . . . the soon-to-be-married man,” Drew piped up from the front seat, then swore again as he hit the brakes and I hit the back of his seat. “Goddamn strays.”
Then he was plowing through the night again. Dex and I looked at each other, me rolling my eyes again, Dex grinning.
“I can’t believe I’ve known Drew all these years and I never met you,” he said wonderingly. I shrugged.
“There’s a big enough age gap between Drew and me that we don’t really know each other’s friends.” I shifted again on Dex’s lap and his smile faltered a little. Then he shifted, too, his eyes sidling away from mine as he cleared his throat. “No one wants to hang out with their kid brother, let alone a kid brother who isn’t old enough to drink.”
Indeed, it was only after I was legal that Drew and I really began to bond as adults. Enough that I was made co-best man. I shared that honor with Drew’s best friend, Mikey B.
The whole sharing of the best man duties was going a lot more smoothly than I had thought it would. Mikey had handled planning the pub-crawl and paid for most of the alcohol consumed, and the dinner before-hand. I’d attended to the not-onerous wedding duties and would be giving the best man’s toast at the reception, since Mikey B. was a shy sort who didn’t do public speaking.
At no point was there the desire or opportunity to step on each other’s toes or swerve into each other’s territory. We each had a place in Drew’s life and were secure in that place. There’d be no power-plays or jockeying for the other’s position between us.
Of all my brother’s many friends, I liked Mikey B. best.
“How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?” Dex asked, snapping me out of my reverie. I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Twenty-four. And you?”
“Thirty-one. Same age as Drew.”
“But I wear it much better,” was the opinion proffered from the driver’s seat. I whapped my brother on the side of the head.
“Shouldn’t you be minding your own beeswax and paying attention to the road, Mario Andretti?”
“Keep hittin’ me and we won’t make it to the Arms in one piece. Or at least you won’t,” Drew threatened emptily, and next to him, in the passenger seat, Mikey B. snickered.
“Ah, Drew, what’ll it look like if your other best man shows up on the big day with a black eye and his arm in a sling?” Joey Mattola laughingly asked from one guy over. I reached behind myself and across said guy—Ted-something-Vietnamese—and savagely pinched Joey’s shoulder, and he yelped and punched me in the back, hard, nearly knocking Ted-something out to do so.
“Assuming we make it out of this death-trap alive, you’re so dead, Mattola,” I growled from my precarious position atop Dex’s lap. It was no secret that Joey and I didn’t always get along. Tonight, from start to now, had been one of the not-nights. Much like any night that ended in Y.
“Easy, kids, easy,” Dex said, pulling me closer against him.
“Like you could take me in a fight, Evan. You’re all bark and no balls.” Joey snorted disdainfully, laughing again, and I felt my face turn uncomfortably red as my eyes narrowed and my hands clenched—one of them bruising-tight on Dex’s shoulder.
“Hey, hey, calm down, Ev. He’s just being a dick. Ignore him,” Dex said soothingly, and I continued to glare out the window, minutely shifting my aching legs, which were jammed against the front seat. Like me, Drew is tall, and he always had the seat pushed back so that there’s precious little room for whomever is sitting behind him, let alone if some poor shlub is on that person’s lap.
But it had been either Dex’s lap, or Joey’s, and that was just big, humongous piles of no.
“I’m not the dick,” Joey said, actually sounding hurt, and Dex was the one to snort, this time, putting a hand on my back.
“You’re always the dick, Joe. Shut up.”
And for a wonder, Joey did. Oh, he grumbled a little, but he kept it to himself. I looked at Dex, who winked at me.
I blushed, and stopped holding onto him so tight. “I don’t need anyone to fight my battles,” I said quietly.
“I didn’t think you did, but in the interest of not escalating a spat, on what’s been a pretty fun night, I felt obliged to step in,” Dex’s smile was peaceable, and I looked away again, swallowing a sharp retort. He was right, after all. It’d been a good—no, a great night. I didn’t want to be the one to ruin it.
Silence fell in the car for a few minutes. I breathed deep breaths and let my irritation—and really, that’s all it was—for Joey and my irritation at being in the worst position in the car, fade away.
When it had, it was then that I realized Dex’s hand wasn’t just on my back, but stroking it calmingly. It felt . . . good. I shivered and hoped Dex didn’t notice.
“So,” he said, his voice pitched low enough that it didn’t disturb the conversation starting up between Ted-something and Mikey B. “How was it for you, tonight, hanging out with your big brother’s no ‘count friends? I hope we weren’t too . . . obnoxious to you or around you.”
“You weren’t,” I said pointedly, thinking of Joey’s behavior for most of the night. He had a terrible habit of hitting on anything with a B-cup or larger, and had done so all night with patrons, barmaids, even women we passed on the street, some of whom had been with guys who could’ve kicked Joey’s ass had he not been with five other dudes.
(Frankly, I thought Joey was overcompensating with his boorish persona, but in the . . . interest of not escalating matters, I didn’t say this aloud.)
“You guys are alright,” I said, shrugging. “I mean, it’s different than hanging out with my own friends, but it’s definitely been a fun night.”
“Good. I’m glad.” I could hear the smile in Dex’s voice and when I glanced at him, he was, indeed, smiling. It transformed his ordinary face into a boyishly captivating one. His blunt, ordinary features became almost handsome.
I blushed again and turned my eyes to the window. Most of the signs that flew by were in Vietnamese. I knew we were getting close to the Arms, having been there once before, just after my twenty-first birthday, when Drew was my designated driver and took me and a few friends there to get lit. That night, there’d only been four of us, no lap-sitting necessary, though at the time, if Tim Marsh had insisted, I wouldn’t have said no.
He hadn’t, of course—he’d had a boyfriend at the time, and I’d still been tentatively seeing Lisa Sidwell. I’d just come out to myself and my family as bisexual, and hadn’t yet so much as kissed a guy. And, as of the night before my brother’s wedding, anyway, I still hadn’t.
Drew took another turn, this one a bit more like a sober driver would, so that I wasn’t nearly flung into Ted’s lap—or worse, Joey’s—and in another few quiet minutes we were at The Tipperary Arms.
“Hallelujah,” Joey grunted as my brother found a spot not too far down the street from the bar. He was the first out of the car, before Drew’d even shut the engine off. You’d have figured he was the one sitting in a stranger’s lap and practically folded like origami.
“Let the party continue,” Drew said with great satisfaction as he turned off the headlights and opened his door. Then he considerately opened the back door for Dex and I. Dex and I looked at each other and I smiled lamely.
“Thanks for the, uh, lap,” I said, and Dex grinned, shrugging.
“Not a problem. It was my pleasure to get to know you.”
I blushed under his frank regard, and quickly slid off his lap, into the spot vacated by Ted-something, Then I was levering myself out of the car, stretching and contorting to ease my legs and work the kinks out of my body. On the other side of the car, Dex exited and Drew clapped him on the back.
“Time to get our drink back on, Dex Sexington,” he said, and Dex laughed, glancing at me.
Dex Sexington? I mouthed, amused, and Dex shrugged, letting my brother drag him over to the sidewalk. Ted, Joey, and Mikey were already halfway to the Arms, Joey gesturing grandly about something, Mikey B. laughing, and Ted-something just ambling along with them.
Not much to say, that one. The more he drank, the quieter he’d gotten. It was rather eerie.
Drew, Dex, and I started walking down the street, abreast, Dex to my left and Drew to my right. Drew and I were exactly the same height—six-two and a half, though where Drew was brawny bordering on muscular, I was kinda stringy, bordering on bony—but Dex was several inches shorter than me. He was powerfully built, like a boxer. He could probably take me in a fight easily.
Or he could just take me, a sly voice insinuated from the depths of my consciousness, and I blushed, even though no one knew what I was thinking.
Dex’s arm kept bumping mine and mine kept bumping his, and when I risked a look at him, he was smiling to himself and staring at his feet.
“So . . . Dex Sexington?” I asked, and Dex laughed, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“That was my nickname in college,” he admitted with chagrin, and I chuckled.
“Got laid a lot, did you?”
“Actually it was the opposite.”
“Damn right.” Drew joined in on the laughter. “This guy couldn’t get laid for love or money. It was really, really . . . pathetic.”
“Screw you, Wahlmaker.” But Dex was still smiling.
“Ah, you’d like to. But Gina’d have something to say about it.”
“You’re not remotely my type, Drew. Gina doesn’t have to worry about me.”
“I’m everybody’s type,” Drew said dismissively. Then laughed again. “Gina calls me her Aryan boy-toy. And she’s my sleek little Guidette.”
“You two are so perfectly matched,” I said wryly, not without a touch of jealousy. My future sister-in-law was not only great for Drew, she was great all-around. And one of the funniest, nicest people I knew. “Still, she could totally do better.”
Dex burst out laughing and Drew growled and pulled me into a one-armed chokehold and noogie. “Agh! Stop!” I wheezed and giggled as we got to the Arms.
“Not till you say: Drew is the bestest brother in the world and all the ladies love him, too.”
And we carried on like that well into the bar—not really dive-y looking. It was, in fact, rather cool, with shining wood surfaces in varying complimentary shades of tan and brown. The walls were covered with old photos and records, and the patrons weren’t the kind of seedy people some local bars boast. Just regular folk—the other patrons making room for us as we went by. My brother still had me in a choke-hold and had stopped giving me noogies in favor of kissing the top of my head repeatedly and calling me the bestest brother in the world.
Yes, this was the man I’d entrusted my life to in a three=ton moving death-machine, not thirty minutes ago.
But Drew let me go as we reached the other guys, and slung an arm around Mikey B. and kissed his cheek. “And here’s my other best man! C’mere, Mikey Beans!” Mikey laughed and grabbed Drew in a choke-hold just like the one I’d been so recently released from. At six-four, and built like the Terminator, he was able to do so easily.
“We should do fuckin’ shots!” Joey said, ostentatiously eyeing a barmaid as she went by with a tray full of empties. She didn’t even deign to glance at him.
“But of what?” Ted asked quietly, thoughtfully.
“Jameson, what else?” Drew decided, looking to me and Mikey B. for agreement. We both nodded and Mikey B. ponied up some cash.
“Other best man procures the shots,” he said and I sighed, eyeing the crowd at the bar and the harried-looking bartender.
“Wish me luck.”
“I’ll come with you,” Dex said, nudging me with his elbow. I grinned and nudged him back.
“And so you don’t have to make two trips.” He grinned back.
“Ugh, why don’t you two just make-out already?” Joey said distastefully. My mouth dropped open and I turned crimson, but Drew merely shot Joey the finger and, with a hand on my back, lead me to the bar.
He fought our way through the crowd with politeness and a few elbow-jabs, till we were leaning on the bar. He signaled the busy bartender, and she nodded at us and called: “Just a minute, boys!” in a nasally soprano as she continued to make what looked like a Mojito.
(Yes, I knew how to make a Mojito. They were so 2000s, but I didn’t care, they were delicious.)
As we waited for the bartender to get to us, Dex and I shared a few glances and smiles. Then he nudged my arm and asked: “So . . . feel free to slap me down if I’m being a jerk—I’ve kinda had enough that I can’t quite tell when I’ve crossed the line of propriety—but . . . are you seeing anyone?”
I blinked in surprise. “Me? Seeing someone? Yeah, right.” I snorted and blushed, and Dex stared at me with assessing eyes.
“Is it so odd that you should be taken?”
“If you knew my pitiful track record, you wouldn’t ask that,” I replied ruefully. Then frowned. “And if you don’t mind me asking . . . why do you ask?”
“Well,” Dex leaned forward on the bar-top and looked at the shelved liquor behind the bar for a few moments before meeting my eyes once more. “Because I thought that if you weren’t—you know, seeing someone special—you might like to get dinner, sometime soon.”
I gaped for the second time that night and Dex’s smile turned wry. “Or is my gaydar completely off about you?”
“It’s not off. At least it’s half-right. I’m bi,” I explained, my face going up in flames.
Dex opened his mouth to say something else, but just then, the bartender got there. Smiling apologetically, Dex turned to her and asked for six shots of Jameson. When she bent to get the glasses from under the bar-top and set them up, Dex’s eyes met mine in the mirror behind the wall of booze, and he winked. I smiled back, turning even redder.
Then the bartender was blocking our reflections as she grabbed the Jamie’s and began pouring the shots. After I paid her, Dex and I gathered up the shots, three each, and made our careful way away from the bar.
“So was that adorable blush a yes to dinner?” Dex asked as we walked. I nearly dropped one of the shot glasses—partly in surprise and partly because some tipsy chick almost hit me in the face while gesturing wildly to her friends.
“Um . . . yes,” I said shyly, and Dex gave me a sideways glance, grinning his boyish grin.
“God, but you’re so cute,” he said, pitched low, for my ears only, as we reached the others, who eagerly took their shots.
Joey, being a douche, almost shot his before we could even decide what we were drinking to, but Ted stopped him with a swat to the arm.
“What’re we drinking to, this time?” he asked pointedly, and Joey rolled his eyes.
Everyone looked to Drew, who laughed. “Don’t look at me! I’ve been coming up with toasts all night. I’m out of stuff to drink to! What about you, Mikey Beans?”
“Don’t look at me, either,” Mikey said, holding up his hand in a halting gesture, his eyes landing on me as his dark, dark face cracked into a rare grin. “Maybe that’s a job for the other best man.”
And then everyone was looking at me.
“Oh, gee, thanks, Mikey. No pressure, right, guys?” I snarked, and they all laughed, except for Joey, who just scowled and said: “Oh, just think of somethin’ so I can do my fuckin’ shot.”
I sneered at him. “If you’re so thirsty, then just drink it, Instant Gratification-boy. All by yourself.”
Joey’s scowl turned into a glare. “Listen, I’ve had just about enough of you since this evening started, you cocksucking little—” and here Joey stopped himself before saying anything further, glancing first at Drew, who was doing that thing with his eyebrows, where he draws them together in one angry, blond, Frida Kahlo-esque uni-brow of disapproval. Then Joey’s eyes went to Dex, who looked very interested in what Joey was going to say next.
I, myself, was curious, too. I had a feeling whatever he’d been about to say, started with an F and end with my brother and maybe Dex kicking the crap out of him. . . .
“In the interests of de-escalating a possible spat on a really fun night of friendship and drunken camaraderie, I propose we drink to the friendship that binds us together, and hopefully will continue to bind us together, whether we get married—” I raised my glass to Drew, who smiled. “Are already married—” I raised my glass to Mikey B, who also smiled. “Are committed to the single life—” I raised my glass to Ted-something, and the corners of his mouth twitched just a little. “Are always on the look-out for the future ex-Mrs. Mattola—” I raised my glass to Joey, who snorted and muttered, but raised his glass back. “Or just invited someone out to dinner.” And here I raised my glass, finally, to Dex, who toasted me back, his eyes half-lidded and dancing. “May the bonds of brotherhood and true friendship always hold between us, never to be sundered by time or distance or strife. May we always look at each other and see the men we are right now . . . in this moment.”
I fell silent and smiled at everyone, and Ted nodded approvingly. Mikey B. said: “Damn, son,” in a rather touched voice. Drew clapped my shoulder and murmured: “You did good, little bro.” Dex moved a bit closer to me and met my eyes, his own filled with unhidden interest and appreciation.
And Joey snorted and demanded: “Well? What’re we waiting for? Let’s drink!”
And we did.