Goddamn but it's fucking cold in DC right now. There's this wind? This fucking devil wind? All I'm trying to do is light a cigarette and get to my buddy's place, it's throwing me into walls and beating the hell out of me like I was talkin about its mama.
What is UP with the iPod's read of 'shuffle' as 'the same thirty songs in a loop though there are 1500 to choose from.' Sigh. Too bad I am attached to it, like, umbilically.
For all y'all who keep wondering, who is this Eric Munson kid and what is he doing cutting in on the action:
It’s the return of the happy story that bears little resemblance to reality! Awesome! I dunno, I tapped into something, man, from way back.
More Funny-Looking Than Usual
By Candle Beck
Hudson usually cuts Zito’s hair in hotel bathrooms. Sometimes in visitors’ clubhouses (never their own, because Larry, who keeps the place in order, would totally set them on fire and take away their candy rack for leaving hair all over the place), sometimes on the back patio at Mulder’s house when there’s no wind, sometimes on the top riser of the stairs in Zito’s apartment building, at the foot of the door to the roof, but mainly just in hotel bathrooms. There are a lot of hotel bathrooms in their lives, it’s easily accessed.
They’ll pull a chair in there, because if Zito’s sitting on the counter, he’s still just about as tall as Hudson standing, and Hudson’s arms lose feeling pretty quick, held up like that. Zito’s got to be facing away from the mirror, because if he’s looking at himself, he’ll just make goofy faces and screw everything up.
Zito takes off his shirt and kneels beside the bathtub, ducking his head under the faucet and getting his hair all wet. He puts a towel over his lap and they throw the rug into the other room for easier cleaning up.
Hudson rubs a towel over Zito’s head, not so much to dry it as to get Zito to stop shivering and bitching about the cold, there on the tile with no shirt on and his hair wet. Can’t cut someone’s hair if they’re jerking around all spastic and shit.
Hudson uses a black plastic Nevr-Break comb, the kind that they used to have on school picture day that fits in a back pocket. Zito used to tease him, “Hey, your daddy give you that comb, Huddy, s’that your inheritance?”
But Hudson just pulled his hair and said, “Yeah, goddamn it.” Zito shut up about it, after that.
There’s no real natural part in Zito’s hair, it sticks up all over his head like grass. Hudson tugs the comb through and swears under his breath, mashing it down with the flat of his hand and growling, “hold still, hippie.”
Zito always has a pretty hard time holding still.
It’s been going on for awhile. It started sometime in 2001, because that’s when Zito’s hair got crazy-long and he thought it was a luck thing, couldn’t cut it, he’d start losing if he cut it. But it was actually getting in his eyes, on the field, getting all over the place. And Chavez said something about how soon it’d be long enough to pull back in a ponytail, and Zito got this look of abject horror on his face.
They were on the road, somewhere, and Hudson, half in the bag, mentioned that he used to cut his brother’s hair, back when they were kids. There was some roundabout mockery at the whole visual of Hudson as a kid, bare feet on the dirt floor of his Alabama shack, tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth as he squinted and trimmed the hair from around the bowl on top of his brother’s head. The guys have the most fucking warped ideas about what growing up in Alabama was like.
But Zito was already standing, and stripping off his T-shirt, and hauling Hudson off the bed, dragging him to the bathroom. There was some loophole in the luck, apparently, where cutting the hair was bad luck but Hudson was good luck, and Hudson’s good luck more than overcame the haircut’s bad luck, or something like that. Zito explained it to him, blinking up from the chair and talking fast, but it’s not like Hudson ever really understands anything Zito says.
That first time, both of them drunk enough to list constantly to the side like ships, Hudson used the blunt-nosed safety scissors that Billy Mac had in his suitcase, along with a box of Crayolas and some construction paper and a gold glitter pen, all of it theoretically belonging to Billy’s youngest daughter.
It took them much longer than it would eventually, and Zito ended up getting a bit of a cold from sitting with his head wet for so long, which is probably why he’s such a girl about it now. Hudson kept messing up and saying, “hang on, hang on,” one eye squeezed shut and the little scissors with the blue plastic handgrip cramping up his palm, clawing his fingers. Chavez sat on the edge of the tub, watching and keeping them company, giving totally unhelpful advice, and eventually passed out fully-dressed in the empty bathtub, and Hudson and Zito talked about maybe shaving off one of his eyebrows or something while he was asleep, but ended up not.
It wasn’t exactly a success. Zito claimed he liked the cut, and its uneven length, called it hipster chic and bought Hudson three whiskey shots that night, but he looked kind of funny, there was no doubt about it. Well. More funny-looking than usual.
It became a thing, though. Every month or so, depending on how clean-cut Zito was trying to look at the time, he’d catch Hudson’s gaze and lift his eyebrows and scrub a hand through his hair, and Hudson would sigh like it was a giant imposition, and let Zito pull him into the next hotel bathroom.
Hudson got a pair of real haircutting scissors, skinny sterling silver blades, but he made his wife buy them, because he felt fucking strange doing it himself.
Hudson keeps drinking while he’s doing the haircut, switching the scissors and comb to one hand and taking a pull off his beer, clinking it back down on the counter. That sound has become very familiar, one of Zito’s favorite parts of the whole thing. Hudson studying him intently, deep concentration all over his face, slowly taking a drink from the bottle, and then setting it back down, glass on tile, clink. Like the snick of the scissors, the squeal of the chair legs on the tile, Hudson’s mumbled curses, the occasional moments when Hudson’s wrist is close to his ear as he tilts Zito’s head one way or the other, and Zito can hear the tick of his watch.
They’re pretty good at it, by now. Zito’s got excellent hair, he considers it his very best feature, and keeps it well-conditioned, shiny and soft. Hudson knows Zito’s head very well, how he doesn’t have sideburns, really, just these little triangle pieces that stick out cat-like in front of his ears, how the back grows faster than the top, gotta be sure to keep it short or it’ll be a mullet within a week, and Zito is no longer a fan of the mullet.
Hudson knows about the thick wedge of hair on the left side of Zito’s head that absolutely will not stay down no matter what they try to plaster it with, gel or spray or anything, and he’s learned to work with it, trim it down to a ruff and push it forward. There’s a scar, too, that he’s got to be careful of, on the right side of the crown of Zito’s head, that Zito says is from his sister cracking a phone down over his head at some point, but Hudson’s pretty sure that’s a lie.
The guys made fun of the whole thing for awhile, and of course all of them wanted to try their hands at it, too, but Zito doesn’t let anyone except Hudson come near him with a pair of scissors or a razor or nothing. They’re always getting all disgruntled, Huddy doesn’t even have hair, what does he know, and Hatteberg usually says something about not trusting bald barbers, but Zito just shakes his head.
Hudson takes things seriously; Zito takes his hair seriously. The others are just snickering punks who’d probably shave a dirty word onto his head if they had half a chance.
The best part is when Hudson needs to work on the front, straight-on, and he kicks Zito’s feet, saying, “Open.” Zito spreads his legs and Hudson steps between them, pushing his fingers into Zito’s hair and glaring downwards, moving a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. Zito keeps his eyes shut and Hudson’s close enough to almost feel, Zito can catch the Old Spice Sport and cotton scent of him. Hudson will be focused totally on his hair, palming Zito’s head, his thumb on Zito’s forehead, and sometimes Zito can let his knee fall in and rest against Hudson’s leg.
Zito shows up in Phoenix in 2004 with a new ultra-short haircut, very stylish and shaped around his head, and Hudson tells him he looks like a frat boy, looks like a date rapist, which is maybe meaner than it should have been.
It’s not till July that Zito’s hair is long enough to need Hudson to cut it again, and by then Hudson is hurt and Zito is under .500 and haircuts are really the last thing on anyone’s mind.
So it’s not until they’re in this bar in Detroit and Zito’s pulling a hand through his hair, elbow up on the table, slicking in the wet spots, and he realizes that he’s actually got enough hair to pull on, now.
“That fucking haircut,” he mutters. Hudson, across from him with one hand curled around his own glass, raises his eyebrows, blinking slow and drunkenly.
Zito tugs on his hair, hard enough to hurt. “Fuckin’ short hair haircut. It was bad luck. Shoulda known. Messing with the luck, man, shoulda fuckin’ known.”
Hudson does that little sideways smile of his, lifting his glass but not taking a drink, just letting it hang in the air with his wrist cocked down a bit. “You tried to look too cool, man.”
Zito nods, scowling, and he takes his hand away with strands of hair wrapped around his fingers. He gets an idea and you can see it hit him, eyes lighting up bright and clean-wide.
Hudson starts, the glass sloshing. “What—Jesus, kid. What?”
Zito grins. “Cut my hair,” he implores, flickering his eyelashes like a girl. Because Hudson’s still good luck, even on the DL, definitely better luck than Zito is in perfect health.
Hudson smiles, looking down into his beer. “Dunno, man. I might be kinda drunk.”
Zito flips his hand dismissively through the air. “You’re always drunk when you cut my hair.”
“That’s true.” Hudson kills his beer, claps it back down on the table authoritatively. “Right. Hotel?”
Zito stabs the table with his finger. “No, here. Right here. Or, um. The bathroom. It’ll be . . . extreme haircutting. You got your scissors, right?”
“Matter a fact I do.” Hudson’s got his whole bag with him, because they came right from the stadium. And even though he hasn’t cut Zito’s hair all season, the scissors are still right there in the inside pocket that’s supposed to be for a cell phone, and tucked in there too is the little black comb.
“So, c’mon. Haircutting on the fly. MacGyver haircutting. Uh. It’ll be a real good story to tell.” Zito grins at him again. Zito’s of the opinion that anything that might someday be a good story is worth doing for that reason alone. Reasoning that seems a bit flawed, but Hudson’s pretty drunk.
The bar bathroom is just one little room with no stalls, and an eye-hook lock. It’s dingy and gray and the light’s bad, but all of that, Hudson knows, is just gonna make it a better story for Zito to tell.
Hudson takes a long drink from the new beer he’d picked up on the way to the bathroom, leaning back against the door with the scissors and comb sticking up out of his front pocket. Zito takes off his shirt, and tucks it into his belt so that it hangs down his leg. He rolls his shoulders, braces his hands on the sink to look at himself in the mirror, his back drawing taut. Hudson drinks some more of his beer, licking the rim of the glass.
Zito kneels, holes in the knees of his jeans and he can feel the concrete. This might be a bad idea. He can’t get his head under the faucet, the sink’s too small. “Dude, help a brother out,” he says over his shoulder, Hudson leaning there with his shoulders back against the door, glass dangling from his fingers and looking like any second now it’ll slip out and shatter, any second now.
Hudson puts the glass on the floor, goes over and cups his hands, running the water and dumping it over Zito’s head. Zito shivers and wriggles, his mouth open. Hudson turns the hot spigot all the way on, his hands turning red and chapped. When Zito flicks his head, the drops fly out onto Hudson’s shirt.
Hudson gets both hands into Zito’s hair and makes sure it’s wet all over. Zito closes his eyes, water slipping down his neck onto his shoulders, then his chest, then his stomach.
“You gonna stay on your knees, or-” Hudson stops. His voice sounds all rough. He clears his throat. “Sit on the toilet?”
“Ah.” Zito cracks one eye open, looking up at Hudson slantwise. “Can you do it fast?”
Hudson just looks down at him for a moment. Jesus, but he’s really fucking drunk. He’s watching the drops of water on Zito’s face, on his forehead, in the notch between his nose and upper lip, in his fucking eyelashes, honestly, now.
“Fast enough, I guess.”
Zito nods, folding his arms on the lip of the sink. “I’ll just. Stay like this then. If you do it fast.”
Hudson’s hand is still in Zito’s hair, resting on top of his head like he’s a puppy or something. Christ. He takes his hand away, whips out the comb and gets to work.
It’s kind of awkward, having to step over Zito’s legs, and Zito’s head is a little lower than it usually is, but it’s all familiar enough. They’re quiet, just the switching of the scissors, the sounds of the bar through the wall, bass beat metal and shouts for orders. Zito’s leaning on his arms to take some of the pressure off his knees, and his shoulders are curved, his back sloped. There are little pieces of wet-brown hair falling everywhere, sticking to whatever they touch.
Someone bangs on the door, rattling in its frame, and Hudson, startled, jabs Zito in the side of the head with the scissors. Zito snaps his head to the side, hisses in pain, and Hudson shouts at the door, “Fuck off!” holding his fingers against the tiny cut under Zito’s hair.
“Sorry ‘bout that, man,” Hudson says, and looks in the mirror to see Zito’s eyes open. Hudson has got a hand on each side of Zito’s head, one hand with the fingers pressing down, and the other one just sort of cradling, Zito’s ear hot against his palm. He’s straddling Zito’s legs, too, his shoes nudged up against Zito’s jeans.
“s’okay,” Zito says quietly. Hudson takes his one hand away and there’s only a dot of red on his fingertips, it’s nothing. Zito’s still looking at him in the mirror. In the reflection, Hudson can see Zito’s arms folded together and making shadows down the slant of his bare chest.
Zito smiles a little bit. “You know what they think we’re doing in here?”
Hudson tries to smile back. “Yeah, I know.” Zito just keeps looking at him—it’s beginning to get kind of creepy. Hudson pulls his eyes away, brushing a hand over the top of Zito’s hair. His throat feels all weird and scratchy. “All right, well. Pretty much done back here. Let’s. The front.”
Hudson steps back, half-tripping over Zito’s legs. His head spins badly for a minute, but he gets a hand on the wall and steadies himself.
Zito’s knees hurt pretty bad, but he’s not about to look like a punk in front of Tim Hudson. He moves back from the sink, his arms chilled from resting on the enamel, feeling flattened, whitened. Zito sways on his knees, and when Hudson steps in front of him, he hooks his hands in the waist of Hudson’s jeans, feels Hudson stiffen.
“Fuck are you doing, kid?” Hudson asks, and it comes out in a whisper. Look at this, got the best-looking twenty-game winner in the league on his knees, how’s that for a Tuesday night? He gets the urge to cackle insanely, and then thinks, ‘jesus fucking christ.’
“For balance,” Zito whispers back, feeling like they’re in some sort of spy movie, something like that. He threads his thumbs through Hudson’s belt loops. His hands are cold from the sink and, really, he’s kind of cold everywhere, the water dried on his shoulders and chest but still damp in his hair, goosebumps all over. Hudson feels pretty warm, the backs of Zito’s fingers just brushing the skin.
“Balance,” Hudson repeats, the word flat and not sounding much like a question at all.
Zito swallows, his chin tilted up and his eyes big. Hudson watches his throat bob, follows the movement down and then there are Zito’s collarbones, Zito’s chest, smooth and totally hairless, not as tan as at the beginning of the season, weirdly enough, because Zito has more time to surf in the winter, but it’s not like he’s pale, either. Hudson’s shadow is draped across Zito’s body, down to Zito’s stomach where he’s got a brief sparse trail of hair under his belly button and.
Hudson, all of a sudden, hears, ‘what the FUCK,’ so loud in his head he winces. His hand is curled tight enough around the scissors that the metal rings are leaving circles in his skin. He shakes his head sharply.
“Let’s get this over with,” he mutters, not looking at Zito’s face or Zito’s chest or thinking about Zito’s hands tugging on his jeans. He jerks the comb through Zito’s hair hard enough to make lines appear on Zito’s forehead, and then sticks the comb between his teeth when he switches to the scissors.
It continues to be entirely unexpected, the fact that Zito’s probably the best friend Hudson’s got on the team, maybe the best friend he’s had in years. They’re just nothing alike. Hudson knows it’s at least partly hero worship, but that’s not the whole story. And that doesn’t explain why he lets Zito hang around so much, because Hudson doesn’t need someone to think he’s that cool. It’s a nice bonus, but he doesn’t need it.
Hudson whistles a little bit, a short refrain of an old Willie Nelson song, and Zito smiles with his eyes shut, face angled up.
Hudson gets him all well-trimmed and looking like an upstanding citizen again. Hudson is feeling a bit steadier, because Zito keeps his eyes closed when Hudson does the front, so as not to get any hair in there (‘even drunk, I can rhyme,’ Huddy thinks proudly), and it’s okay to not have to see Zito’s eyes right now.
“Right,” Hudson says, pocketing the comb and scissors again, swiping a hand back and forth across Zito’s hair to get anything loose. “You’re done.”
Zito’s eyes come open. Which of course, they would do. Now that there’s nothing being cut and falling down, no fear of going blind or anything like that. Zito looks up at him with his mouth all small, a piece of hair on his cheek that Hudson brushes away with the side of his thumb, not even thinking about it. Zito’s hands pull down a bit harder, the bumps of his knuckles touching Hudson’s hips.
Hudson jerks backwards, hits the sink. He reaches behind and fastens his hands on the lip of the sink, and keeps thinking, ‘you are so fucking wasted, so fucking drunk, none of this is happening, you’re just really fucking drunk.’
Zito takes his hands off Hudson, touches his own hair. The back of his neck itches like a motherfucker, stray bits of hair. Usually he gets Hudson to blow across it, but he doesn’t think he can ask that of Hudson right now. He lifts his eyebrows. Hudson is staring down at him like he’s in shock, gray-blue eyes the color of some mixed metal, alloy, that’s the word, alloy eyes, and Hudson’s face is shaded.
“Huddy,” Zito says low. Hudson bites the inside of his cheek.
Zito raises a hand, sees Hudson flinch, thinks that’s kind of weird, maybe Hudson is really drunk, after all, you’re pretty drunk, aren’t you, kid, pretty fucking drunk. Definitely. Zito flattens his hand on Hudson’s side and that’s weird too, because it’s like Hudson’s shaking a little bit, trying to get himself under control. Zito pushes, hard muscle under Hudson’s shirt and it’s easy to forget that Hudson’s hurt, he doesn’t look it, doesn’t ever remind them of it.
“Would you move, please? Wanna see it.”
“Oh,” Hudson says, sounding bizarrely disappointed. “Yeah, sure.” He shakes his head, steps aside.
Zito studies his hair in the mirror, it looks good, it looks like a vintage Tim Hudson haircut, uneven and frayed at the edges just the way he likes it. Zito grins, and reaches to grab Hudson’s arm, pull himself up with his knees cracking like gunshots, jagging with pain.
“Looks cool, man. Ow. Fuckin’ knees.”
Zito leans most of his weight on Hudson, because Hudson’s a pretty small guy, comparatively, but he’s also dead-solid, every inch of him, miniature wooden figurine of a pitcher. Hudson’s not supposed to lift anything heavy or put any strain on his side, but he’s not feeling a pull or anything, it’s just Zito hanging on his shoulder like always.
Hudson gets an arm around Zito’s waist, but that’s not helping at all, because Zito’s still not wearing a shirt and against Hudson’s forearm he’s warm and soft-rough with goosebumps, which is so fucking strange Hudson’s head almost falls off.
He pushes Zito away, and Zito stumbles, almost tips over. Zito scowls at him, but pulls his shirt out of his belt and puts it back on, which is at least one thing taken care of. Hudson kicks at the scatter of hair on the floor. “Should we maybe sweep up? With, uh. Paper towels? Or something?”
Zito shakes his head, skating his hand across his hair and scratching compulsively at the back of his neck. “Nah. Have you seen this bathroom? Haircutting is definitely, like, the cleanest activity that goes on in here.”
And Zito is grinning at him and it’s supposed to be a joke, definitely a joke, but Hudson’s thinking about the other things that might go on in here, thinking about Zito on his knees, and Hudson makes an awkward noise, rubs a hand fast over his face.
“Hey, I’m. Really fucking drunk.”
Zito snorts. “Gonna need somebody to carry you outta here, dude?” he asks, isometric flexing the muscles in his arms, probably he could fireman-carry Hudson out of the bar, though that might look kinda odd to the other people in the bar, but well, whatever.
But Hudson shakes his head, dropping his head down for a second until the room comes into focus again, Zito standing there with his newly-shorn hair, his shadow big across the wall.
Hudson’s never been particularly pleased that most everybody is taller than him, or not everybody, obviously, but he spends all his time with professional athletes, which skews his perceptions. He’s especially not pleased that Zito’s taller than him, and wider through the shoulders and chest, longer arms, bigger hands, because Zito’s such a kid, even now, still such a fucking kid, and Hudson remembers that the only reason he’s the one who cuts Zito’s hair is because he used to cut his brother’s hair, remembers that Zito’s supposed to be just another younger brother who can call on Tim to beat up bullies and all that good stuff.
“Let’s just go, okay?”
Zito nods, wondering what’s up with the mild flush on Hudson’s neck, coloring his ears, because Hudson’s not exactly the blushing type.
They head out and when Hudson shoulders up to the bar to get rid of his empty glass, the bartender glares at him and says, “Listen, buddy, that bathroom’s for everybody. Next time, you and your boy can hit up the fucking Motel 6, all right?”
Hudson stares at him, mouth open dumbly, and Zito’s standing back with his hands in his pockets, studying the floor. “I. I was cutting his hair,” Hudson says, feeling so stupid he could just fucking cry.
The bartender’s upper lip sneers. “Whatever you want to call it. Keep it the fuck out of here.”
Hudson’s eyebrows pull down, because damn if them ain’t fightin’ words, but then Zito’s got a hand wrapped up in the back of his shirt and is tugging him away, dragging him out to the sidewalk.
Zito lifts his hand, flagging down a cab, and Hudson is tight with anger, saying in disbelief, “You know what that fucker said to me? You know what he thought we were doing in there? Jesus, can’t even give a guy a motherfucking haircut in the bathroom anymore, what the fuck is the world coming to, my god.”
Zito smirks. “Well, c’mon, man, what’s he supposed to think? Musta been twenty minutes in there. My knees are all fucked up and everything. Just like if we’d-” He stops, and flushes.
“Yeah, you know all about it, huh?” Hudson says, rolling his eyes, and he means for it to be sarcastic but Zito won’t look at him. “Kid?”
Zito yanks his head to the side, his face hot. A cab veers over towards them. Zito looks at it with pure relief, saying way too enthusiastically, “Look, Timmy, a cab, let’s get in the cab now.”
He ducks in, and scoots way over against the opposite door. Hudson follows a bit slower, keeping his balance with a hand on the cab’s roof. He lets the driver know where they’re going and then squints a look at Zito out of the corner of his eye. Zito’s scratching at the back of his neck, his face all twisted.
“Got a rash?” Hudson asks mildly.
Zito half-grins. “Feels like fuckin’ bugs crawling all over back there. You sure you got all the hair off?”
“Pretty sure.” Usually Zito takes a shower right after one of Hudson’s haircuts, because loose hair is, like, the quickest way to drive him crazy.
Hudson’s hand is already on the back of Zito’s neck before he even registers that it’s moving. And he can’t take it away, at that point, without it being weird. Weirder. What-the-fuck-ever.
Hudson swallows and slips his hand up into Zito’s hair, rustling it to get the cut strands free. Zito sighs and lets his head fall forward. Hudson’s whole hand is rough, beat-hard, not just the tips of his fingers but all of it. Zito can feel it chafing, scraping, but it’s kind of good.
Hudson brushes down the nape of Zito’s neck. This is a good place, he decides, a nice, unexpected place. Because the skin is perfectly smooth and tight and there are the bumps of Zito’s spine, just the right size for fingers to go between, spine notches are as cool as it gets, really, and Zito’s warm, not too hot like he might be over a pulse point or closer to his heart, the right kind of warmth that doesn’t leave marks or nothing like it, and there’s a fringe of hair to mess with if you get bored with just skin, though, seriously, fucking perfect skin back here, and who’da thought, who in the world.
Hudson realizes he’s happily stroking the back of Zito’s neck, his head turned and resting on the seat so that he can watch his hand smoothing down again and again, a dumb sleepy smile on his face, and Hudson snatches his hand off so quick Zito inhales through his teeth, feeling all at once bereft.
Zito turns, very dark eyes, biting his lower lip, and he reaches, touches Hudson’s shoulder and then Hudson’s chest, the flat of his palm and his fingers hooking in the pocket of Hudson’s shirt, the pocket where Hudson’s dad used to keep his Lucky Strikes soft pack, and what a strange thing to think about.
Zito takes a deep breath, and pulls Hudson closer to him. Hudson’s eyes close with absolutely no input from his brain. He feels Zito’s breath on his face, his cheek, and Zito can’t believe Hudson hasn’t hit him yet, just cannot fucking believe it.
Zito’s breath moves over Hudson’s cheek to his ear, and there’s a quiet moment before Zito says raggedly, right into his ear and every single nerve ending in Hudson’s body fucking screaming for attention, “Say no, Huddy.” Hudson shudders, briefly. Zito licks his ear, and Hudson gasps.
“Just say no, man, that’s all you gotta do.”
Zito waits, one-mississippi, two-mississippi, thinking wisely, ‘though of course he’s from Alabama, which is not the same place at all,’ and Hudson doesn’t say anything, so Zito closes his teeth on Hudson’s earlobe and tugs and pushes his hand across Hudson’s chest, sliding his fingers into the gaps between Hudson’s shirt buttons, finding skin.
Hudson’s head, which is probably no longer attached to his body, falls back and Zito’s open mouth goes to work on his throat, long throat with five o’clock shadow rasping on Zito’s face. Hudson breathes in unsteady whistles. Zito’s fingers are drawing on his chest, circles and figure-eights and whorls. Zito shifts closer, right up against him now and Zito feels huge, little Tim Hudson beneath him, all loose like his strings have been cut, Zito’s shadow looming, though everything is in shadow because it’s just the back of a cab, nothing much more than this.
Zito’s hand makes a claw to hold him down, and he kisses Hudson, right on the mouth, because Hudson hasn’t said no yet.
The toughest guy on the team, the straightest man in the state, and dear god almighty if Tim Hudson isn’t kissing him back. Zito wants to do some sort of victory dance. Hudson’s hand comes up to the back of his head and presses down, and Zito gets his tongue involved and then Hudson’s tongue is involved too, and that’s, honestly, just about the greatest thing that’s ever happened.
It’s a blur, for awhile, until the cab driver clears his throat very loudly, probably not for the first time, and Hudson looks up to realize they’re at the hotel, actually stopped under the big lit overhang in front where cars are supposed to pull up. They’re in the light, it’s as bright as day. The big glass walls of the lobby, the revolving doors and the guy in the maroon and gold uniform waiting to usher them inside.
Hudson makes a decidedly uncharacteristic yelping sound, and shoves Zito off him. He gets out of the cab as quickly as possible, his head stuffed with cotton and his hands shoved in his pockets so that nobody can see what’s going on down there in his jeans, because there is nothing going on down there, absolutely nothing, and he didn’t just make out with Barry fucking Zito in the back of a cab for fifteen minutes, definitely not.
He stalks all stiff-legged and awkward to the elevators, and Zito throws too much money at the cabbie, chases after him. He catches Hudson’s arm in front of the elevators, but Hudson pulls away, not looking at him and his profile stony.
“Dude, would you please not freak the fuck out?” Zito says, and Hudson turns to him, his eyes going crazy, totally berserk, and Zito would take a step back, but the elevator pings open and Hudson’s grabbing his arm, pushing him inside, and the second the doors are closed again, Hudson’s hand is on the back of his neck again, pulling him down and fitting their mouths together, and okay, Zito can deal with this. Can definitely without a doubt deal with Huddy freaking the fuck out if it means Huddy plastered against him like cellophane and sucking on his lower lip and doing that absolutely fucking illegal thing with his tongue. Yes. Huddy can freak the fuck out whenever he wants.
Somebody, somehow, manages to hit the button for their floor, and the both of them somehow manage to keep their hands off each other down the length of the hallway with the raucous noises coming from behind Chavez’s door and Bobby Crosby hollering at Byrnes for taking the Twix out of the minibar, which Crosby totally called dibs on like a day ago. Zito’s got this absurdly big grin on his face, starry-eyed and punch-drunk and also just regular drunk.
Hudson puts a hand on Zito’s hip to guide him into Hudson’s room, and then Hudson’s hand is dashing up under Zito’s shirt, heated rib-skin and who could know that Zito would be so smooth and clean everywhere, his side and his stomach and his chest, really just kind of without flaw, which is not something Hudson has ever thought about Zito before and probably not something he’ll ever think about Zito again, but right now, man, right now.
Zito’s shirt is off and Hudson’s is unbuttoned all the way, hanging open off his shoulders, and any second now this is gonna get too fucked up for one of them to deal with, but then Zito drops to his knees without Hudson even having to push him down, and hey, they were just doing this, crazy! But no, it’s definitely different, and Zito is pulling Hudson’s belt open, undoing his fly, and Hudson tips his head back against the door, because Jesus. Fucking Christ.
Zito breathes hotly on Hudson’s stomach, and licks around a bit, biting some to hear Hudson make tight groaning sounds, and then he grins, his teeth bared against Hudson’s hip. Hudson’s hands are clenched in his hair, which is where this all started, and when he notices that Zito has stopped doing anything, he looks down, ready to protest mightily.
Zito just beams up at him, looking so happy you could bottle and sell him, and he says, “Don’t pull it all out, man, you just got it looking good again.”
Then Zito’s mouth makes contact with Hudson’s skin again, his hands working enthusiastically, and Hudson’s chest is jumping, hitching up and down and he’s moaning like he’s being filmed, and the last clear thought that makes it through his head that night is, ‘thank sweet christ i know how to cut hair.’
Endnotes: Absolutely fucking true that Hudson cuts Zito’s hair. I kid you not. Also, for all we talk of Mulder and Zito and the love that dare not speak its name, Hudson and Zito are like particularly affectionate puppies with each other, I swear to God they are.
But more importantly! Yes I know we all have finals and stuff and so do I, y'all, so quit scowling, but call it a study break, yo. It's too cold to go outside! There's only so much one person can say about Ibsen and Dostoevsky, and only so much about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that can be absorbed in one night. Honestly. I pretend as if I've yet cracked a single book.
You realize how long it’s been since I wrote something that wasn’t primarily in the present tense? The fuck is that about? And, up until about six months ago or so, I never wrote anything that wasn’t in the past tense. Crazy stuff, yo.
There’s a room at the back of the apartment where Eric Chavez lives with his wife. It’s small and has sort of skewed walls, corners all squeezed together into blades, like that, because the building juts out weirdly, and there’s something about heating ducts too, warping the shape of it, turning it into an attic even though it’s just at the end of the main hall.
When they were being shown the place, in the middle of the summer in 2003, Chavez was tired and in a bad mood, because this was probably the seventh place they’d seen that day, and he was sick of looking at bare white walls and varnished wooden mantles, state-of-the-art kitchens with counters as shiny as brand-new dimes, walk-in closets and nooks for entertainment centers, half-bathrooms off the living room, balconies and ornamental fireplaces that couldn’t be used.
The realtor lady was sweeping through with her no-nonsense bustle, waving her hand at the various features and talking mainly to Alex, who nodded and asked good questions and only sometimes looked behind to check that Chavez was still following. Chavez had his hands in his pockets, scowling and kicking at the molding at the base of the wall. His back hurt, the fucking herniated disk was acting up again.
“And this is the solarium,” the realtor lady said, turning smoothly with her fingers spread out to show them. She looked over at Chavez, said with a wide patronizing smile, “That’s ‘sun room,’ Mr. Chavez.”
Alex shot him a glance, because she knew that there wasn’t much of anything that could piss Chavez off faster than people thinking he was stupid. Chavez made fists in his pockets and nodded at the window. “Seems like that gigantic brick building would kinda block any light from getting in here, though.” He showed a big toothy grin.
The realtor lady’s fake smile got wider for a second, cracks stretching in her purpley lipstick, and then she chuckled awkwardly, started talking about how that brick building is only a couple of years old, and the apartment is pre-war, of course, so the solarium name just stuck, but really, it’s a fine open space, just perfect for a study or whatever they might want to use it for.
Chavez tuned her out, tracing around the perimeter of the room, poking at the light switch and the window frame. The realtor lady followed him uncertainly with her eyes, and Alex came over to take his hand and thread their fingers together. Chavez was looking out, his free hand on the frame, the brick building that didn’t even have any windows to spy into, and if he leaned forward he could see down to the edge of the building, where the sun could cut the corner and get through, long and pole-tall. He could see a slice of the eastern hills.
Alex squeezed his hand, and when he looked down at her, she smiled and winked at him. He was, all over again, relieved to be reminded that he did actually love her. This wasn’t just revenge.
They ended up taking the apartment. And Chavez got the sun room, the solarium, whatever they wanted to call it. Alex took the second bedroom for her home office, “at least, until . . .” she would say, sliding her hand over his shoulder and curling close to him. He always just smiled and nodded, kissed her so she’d stop talking about that stuff.
Chavez doesn’t mind that the sun can only barely get into the room, when its angle through the crack between the brick building and the apartment is perfect, in a stripe moving across the wall, as thick as a playing card. He likes watching the stripe move for the two hours of the day that it gets through. Likes to feel the warmth on the back of his neck, like four fingers in a flat line.
It became the boy room. That’s what Alex calls it, because Chavez put the Playstation 2 in there, a bunch of junk from the clubhouse, stacks of old scorebooks and six shoeboxes full of baseball cards that he’d had his mom send him once they signed the lease. He used to have more baseball cards than this, he coulda sworn.
It’s where the guys hang out, when they come over, but they don’t come over so much. Chavez doesn’t invite them. It’s weird and they’re too loud and Alex goes to bed pretty early, so.
He spends a lot of time in the boy room, when it’s January and he’s been married for a month and he can’t sleep. And then after the season starts and he’s home by midnight even though Alex never actually asks him to be, he can see it in her eyes. There’s a really long stretch in May that almost breaks him, and he basically moves into the boy room at that point.
He plays video games and keeps the lights off. He plays against the computer, just because, really, what are his options, and after a couple of weeks, he can beat even the highest level with no trouble. He doesn’t get bored with it, though. It’s all right, knowing that he’ll win every time.
Alex never wakes up when he slips out of bed and goes to the boy room. He walks on the outsides of his feet like an Indian, just to be sure. He looks back at the doorway to make sure she hasn’t moved and for some reason the sight of the big bed, mess of blue covers and Alex’s pale hair peeking out, the two bedside tables, makes his throat tight. It’s so entirely adult, having two bedside tables that match. The table on his side, the little drawer is full of bottle caps and balled-up receipts and the stubs of movie tickets.
Sometimes their dog, Tank, lifts his head up off the carpet and blinks at him, huge dog-yawn that looks like he’s unhinging his jaw. Tank never follows him, though, which is good because the floors are hardwood and the dog’s nails click like plastic wind-up toys, big white chattery teeth tottering on yellow sneakers. Tank just looks at him with a bored, mildly irritated look on his face, if dogs can have such complicated expressions, plainly saying, ‘dude, what the fuck are you doing, it’s two in the morning.’ Then he snuffles and goes back to sleep.
Chavez plays video games and it takes him too long to realize that, just like the stripe of the sunlight from one to three in the afternoon, there’s a stripe of moonlight from three to four in the morning, when there’s a moon, dull gray and cold and moving much slower, on the back of his hand, against the cuff of his T-shirt sleeve.
Mark Mulder has never really lived alone.
He went straight from his parents’ house to college, and though he could have gotten a single, lived in the dorm for athletes and serious scholarship students (Jock-Dork Hall, they called it), he decided not to. Sophomore year, he lived off campus in a ratty little apartment with three of his teammates. Junior year, they got a new place, not much better than the first, with chewed holes in the baseboards and pipes that clanged loudly in the middle of the night.
Then he got drafted, of course had roommates in the minors, and when he got called up, he immediately corralled some of the guys to find a place in the East Bay. Chavez lived with him that first half year, and was the only one from the first house who moved into the second in 2001.
In the off-season, Mulder goes home to Chicago. Lives with his dad for a little while, lives with the older of his two younger brothers, who’s in graduate school at Northwestern, smart little fucker, for a while longer.
In Phoenix for spring training, he stays with Chavez or Zito, or once, for two weeks in ’02, with Hudson, until he’d gotten kicked out, showed up at Chavez’s hotel room with his duffel bag and a pretty well-formed grudge against any and all right-handed pitchers from Alabama. Mulder’s pretty sure Hudson didn’t like the way his wife was always smiling at him and putting on fresh make-up and offering to make Mulder sandwiches and stuff, but whatever. He’s got some morals, for Christ’s sake. And Hudson could maybe-probably kick his ass, anyway, eight inches shorter or not.
It’s not a thing or anything. It’s not like Mulder can’t be alone. It’s just that he prefers not to be. They’re all in the same situation, or at least most of them are, living in the East Bay for six months of the year and somewhere else for the other six. No real reason not to get a house together. Hell, at least they have the same schedule.
Anyway, he’s gonna get a place down in Scottsdale for the off-season this year, all by himself. There’s a lot of good golfing down there, and it’s where his mom lives now. He’s had enough of the snow and the push of the wind at his back. Had enough being cold. It can get pretty chilly in Arizona at night, but he stays inside. Everything’s very new down there. Still got the cellophane on it.
It wasn’t a big surprise, Chavez moving out. He and Alex got pretty serious pretty quickly. Chavez doesn’t fall in love, he falls off a cliff, and wakes up married. Mulder saw it coming.
Zito started coming around a lot, about that time.
There’s a box of stuff in the hall closet of the Walnut Creek house, the new house for 2004. It’s under a pile of beach towels and old uniform jerseys with rips in the sleeves and buttons missing. The box has three white address stickers on it, Sharpie-black scribbled over the writing. The corner’s torn a little bit, so you have to be careful when you’re picking it up.
Mulder says he doesn’t know who the box belongs to. He shrugs, he says, maybe it’s Menechino’s, he left all sorts of shit. Crosby believes him, because Crosby believes pretty much everything Mulder says. Harden doesn’t, but Harden doesn’t care all that much.
In the box is a warm-up T-shirt with ‘Visalia Oaks’ on the front, no number of the back because it’s just a warm-up shirt. No big deal. A bunch of them who came up through the system played for the Oaks. But it’s the old uniform font, the curved scrolled letters that Visalia retired in favor of a more modern look in 1998. Before Zito was in Class A down there, before Mulder was even out of school.
Also there are some San Diego Padres souvenirs, a red felt pennant from Mt. Carmel High School, and a program from the College World Series in ’98, when USC won it. Cardboard drink coasters from hotels in Las Vegas and Palm Springs. Old baseballs turning yellow and the blue-ink signatures fading along with the red of the stitches. A paperback book with the cover missing, a pulp mystery that was bought in a bus station at some point, off a cheap folding table from a guy with tattoos of Celtic crosses and lions on his arms and neck. A cell phone with a number that doesn’t connect anymore. The starting line-up for the Detroit Tigers, from some day a year or two past, with crazy drawings in the margins and goofy cartoon faces, arrows and exclamation points. Three shoeboxes full of baseball cards chocked into the corners.
Yeah, Mulder’s got no fucking idea whose box this is. Right.
The box moved into the Walnut Creek house at the start of the season in ’04 even though Eric Chavez didn’t. It was in storage with Mulder’s stuff over the off-season, and he didn’t look in it when he shoved it in the back of his car and drove into the hills. He stuck it in the hall closet and doesn’t think too much about it.
Eric Chavez and his fiancée signed the lease for their new apartment on an off-day before the Indians came to town, and then Alex kissed him and left to go to a cousin’s wedding in Cielo Negro, a wide spot in the road fifty miles south of Monterey that’s apparently so beautiful you come back from it fundamentally changed.
Chavez went back to the Alamo house, where all his stuff was in boxes, stacked in his room and the front hallway. Zito was on the couch with his bare feet up on the coffee table, his hair damp. He was slumped down with his chin on his chest, looking for all the world like he was asleep.
Chavez searched his pockets for something to throw at him, but there was nothing good, so he had to settle for a penny. He bounced it off Zito’s forehead from the doorway, thinking, ‘shoots he scores!’ and ducked into the hallway before Zito’s eyes came open.
He stopped at his own room, but it depressed him, the bed stripped down to just a tattered blanket and a single pillow, the boxes and empty walls, the curtains drawn because it seemed like one of the things you should do when moving out of a place, leave all the cabinet doors closed and the curtains drawn, get the key from under the doormat and that old can of coffee from the top of the refrigerator. Yeah. Really depressing.
He went down the hallway, and nudged Mulder’s door open without knocking, hoping as always to interrupt something, because they’d been living together for three seasons and he hadn’t walked in on anything yet, and that seemed like a true shame.
Mulder was sitting on the edge of the bed, his back to Chavez, facing the window. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and his back was curved, because his head was in his hands. And the sunset came in triangles through the bends of his elbows, sidewalk-glittering off his hair, which was wet too, like Zito’s, and Zito hadn’t been wearing shoes or socks and Mulder wasn’t wearing a shirt.
Mulder’s back moved slightly as he breathed, and Chavez couldn’t tell if he was tired or sad or what. Couldn’t imagine Mulder sad, really. Must be tired.
Chavez said, “Hey,” and Mulder’s shoulders jerked, twisting sharply around. With the melting orange sun behind him, Chavez couldn’t make out his features. Chavez tipped his head against the doorjamb, hooked a thumb in his pocket. “Let’s go.”
Mulder just looked at him for a moment, his face coming into focus as Chavez’s eyes adjusted, and then he nodded, stood up and pulled his shirt back on.
They didn’t look in on Zito in the living room, didn’t leave a note or nothing. There wasn’t much in the house that Zito would want to steal, anyway.
They went over to Chavez’s new apartment, stopping to pick up a six pack on the way. They killed one apiece in the elevator, racing each other, cracking and opening their throats and pouring it down, an old game that they’d learned in hotels. It was fourteen floors up, because there wasn’t any thirteenth floor, and that wasn’t a record. They’d done it in ten. Zito once did it in seven, but then threw up in the hallway two steps out, which totally negated the accomplishment. The other beers hung off Mulder’s fingers, the plastic rings hooked tightly.
Chavez figured out the door key from the outside key from the mailbox key, all of them with folds of masking tape around the top, cryptic symbols, and it took him a while to get the thing to turn, the tumblers falling and clacking under his hand.
He led the way down the hallway, and when he got to the open space with the doorway to the kitchen on his left and the doorway to the living room on his right, the light coming from both sides and throwing his shadow straight down, he did the realtor lady’s gesturing twirl, great big fake grin on his face.
“It’s pre-war, don’t you know.”
Mulder smirked, took a long drink of his fresh beer. “The hell you say.”
“True story, man.”
Leaning his shoulder against the wall, Mulder lifted his eyebrows. “Which war, exactly?”
Chavez stopped, looked at him, leaning there all easy and his T-shirt badly wrinkled, crushed up under his ribs. “Didn’t ask.”
He walked over to Mulder and Mulder’s eyes sharpened, narrowed down on him like pinpoints. Chavez started to reach for him and Mulder flinched backwards, nothing he would ever admit to, because Mark Mulder does not flinch, but Chavez saw his shadow move on the wall, the dusting of plaster under his shoulder fanning down to the hardwood floor. Chavez grinned, and pulled a beer off the six pack, turning away and going back down the hall.
“C’mere, I wanna show you this.”
Chavez didn’t look back, but he heard Mulder’s footsteps echoing hollowly. The apartment was big and empty, tunneled hallways and broad unsighted windows, curtains thrown back. It smelled like wet paint and sawdust.
Chavez went into the little room at the end of the hall, with the canted awkward corners and the strip of light, though of course the sun had long since gone down and Chavez didn’t yet know about the moon-stripe that came later. He went right over to the window, angled so that he could see the small view of the hills, unevenly dotted with gold lights.
“This is the sun room. Excuse me. Solarium. Very high-class, I’m sure you could tell.” He grinned over his shoulder. Mulder was standing just inside the doorway, looking oddly smaller than he usually did, the width of his chest less like a superhero’s, all the dumb things Chavez used to think about him. He was working on his beer, and the ones still on the rings twisted gently at his side, brushing his leg.
“Nice,” Mulder said.
Chavez nodded. “Think it’s gonna be my room. I mean, like. Um. Gonna put a couch in here, and a TV, the Playstation and stuff. It’s where we’ll hang out, when you come over. Or. When any of the guys come over.”
He turned back to the window. “You can see the hills. Kinda.” He heard Mulder’s footsteps coming across the room and didn’t move. Mulder stood at his shoulder, his reflection in the glass.
“Cool brick building you got there, too.”
Chavez nodded. “Yeah, I like it.” He realized he was holding his breath and let it out carefully, so as not to be detected. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Mulder’s reflection. Watched Mulder’s hand move, rise up and linger close to his arm.
Chavez shook his head. “No, you know what? Shut up.” He turned and his arm hit Mulder’s hand and Chavez moved forward, catching his fingers in Mulder’s belt. He pressed his knuckles down, real low on Mulder’s stomach. Mulder sucked a breath in and for a moment Chavez’s hand wasn’t touching skin, and then he pressed down again.
“Just shut up, seriously,” Chavez whispered. Mulder’s eyes were big, and he nodded, without a word.
There wasn’t anything to do it on. There wasn’t anything soft in this apartment, not even something left behind just in case. They tried to pile up their clothes, but it was summertime and they weren’t wearing coats or anything. T-shirts and jeans and Chavez could feel the brass button digging into his shoulder blade. It wasn’t entirely successful.
The back of Chavez’s head got banged around pretty good on the hardwood, knots rising that he’d still be able to feel three days later. Mulder’s elbows sported blistered streaks across the skin, more painful than rug-burn. Like bathroom tile, same as that time in the hotel in Anaheim when Chavez’s knees got all fucked up like that.
It was, really, much more awkward and painful than it should have been. Chavez kept gasping in air but it was never enough, and his head slid on the floor, tipped way back to see out the window, the steady brick and the slash of sky, way high up, a pale fuzz at the corner that might have been the moon, he couldn’t tell. Mulder was heavy, pressing him down and his ribs felt crushed. Mulder’s face was all rough. Under the beer, he tasted like the gum Zito was always chewing, Extra sugar-free, still so sweet it almost stung.
Once they were done with that, they drank the last of the beers sitting side by side against the wall, under the window with their shirts off, not talking. Chavez hurt in a lot of different places.
After awhile, he pulled the crumpled envelope out of his back pocket, flipped it around in his hands a couple of times before handing it to Mulder.
“wass‘at?” Mulder asked, half-slurring and his eyelids almost closed, his head back so that Chavez could see his neck stretched out, the shape of his mouth fit against Mulder’s pulse, the dent of his shoulder.
“Rent I owe for the rest of the month. Utilities, too.”
Mulder’s eyes came open a bit more, looking angry. He tried to shove the envelope back at Chavez, but Chavez wouldn’t take it. “I don’t want it,” Mulder said. “You. Fucker. You don’t owe shit.”
He dropped the envelope between them. Chavez shrugged, his shoulders scraping on the plaster. He was pretty tired. Didn’t want to be having a fight about this right now. “Just take it, man.”
Chavez sighed, closed his eyes and rolled his head around on his neck. He angled up to dig his hand into his pocket, groaning a little at the movement. He pulled out his keys, unhooked the key for the Alamo house off the ring. Mulder was watching him, eyes slitted.
“You can. Jesus, Eric. You can keep that, for Christ’s sake. It’s not like. I mean, you can still come around and stuff.”
Chavez flicked the key at him. It hit Mulder’s chest and slithered down to his stomach. It had to be cold on his bare skin, but he didn’t jerk or react at all.
“No, I can’t.”
He closed his eyes again. Mulder was gonna have to take something from him, eventually. His mouth felt all beer-slick and swollen. “We should get going.”
Mulder didn’t say anything. Chavez pulled his flip-flops on and got up, put his shirt back on, handed Mulder his. Mulder just sat there, looking up at him, with his T-shirt fisted in his hand and draped across his knee, the key on his stomach, silver as fish scales and gleaming dimly. Mulder’s jeans were still open, a white triangle of his shorts standing out starkly.
Chavez put his hands in his pockets and looked at Mulder down there on the floor for a long time, thinking, ‘this is my new home.’
Chavez dropped Mulder off the Alamo house, and Mulder looked at him curiously, feeling gun-shy when Chavez didn’t pull into the driveway or turn off the car.
“Aren’t you. Thought you were sleeping here tonight?” Mulder asked.
Chavez shook his head. He was going to Cielo Negro. Because fuck it. He’d be lucky to get there before dawn. He wouldn’t get any sleep and they had a game tonight but fuck it. “I’ll come by after the game. Pick up my stuff.”
Mulder looked out the window at their house. He sucked on his teeth, and said, “You want to, maybe,” snagging his head to the side.
Chavez swallowed. “Would you just. Get out, please.”
Mulder got out and Chavez pulled away before the door was even all the way shut, California-rolling through the stop sign at the corner, because they all knew that the cops never came around this late at night.
Mulder went inside, kicking his shoes off onto the complicated pile of sneakers in the front hallway. The TV was on in the living room, but it was switched to video for the Xbox, so it was just an uninterested gray screen. Mulder turned it off, wrapped up the controllers and took the Halo disc out of the machine, put it back in its box, and spent some time on his knees organizing the game boxes in an alphabetic row along the wall, because they didn’t have shelves this room.
He was almost asleep, and he’d had sex three times today with two different people and he should probably do what he could to make sure that didn’t happen very often anymore. It wasn’t anything he ever thought he’d be adverse to, but. It just fucking wrings him out.
He went down the hallway, shuffling until he knew for sure that the next thing he touched would jerk a static charge against his fingers. Maybe he’d touch something and it’d burst into flame. You never know. He went past Chavez’s empty room and didn’t look in, which he felt kinda proud about. Then he felt stupid for feeling proud.
Mulder yawned and opened his door. Zito was asleep in his bed, all sprawled out with one arm hanging off the side, a pillow over his head. Mulder could see a smooth length of his back, could hear Zito chewing on the sheets like he always did.
Mulder took off his shirt and jeans, folded both carefully and put them on top of his dresser. He tried to think of whose turn it was to pitch tomorrow, but for the life of him it wouldn’t come.
Zito coughed, and half-rolled over onto his side. The pillow fell off his head and his face looked calm, mouth shiny and hair all over the place.
There was this theory that Mark Mulder had never lived alone. But that wasn’t true at all.
The boy room, honestly, it’s not all that much. No matter how cool the light looks from one to three in the afternoon and three to four in the morning, it’s really just a small cramped back room with bad-angled walls and a hunched doorway.
He sits on the floor a lot, though there’s a couch, and a big armchair that just barely fit through the door, stuffing spilling out from a split in the seams. It’s the first time since he started playing professional baseball that Chavez isn’t living with rented furniture.
With his back against the couch, and the Playstation controller’s cord wound around his arm, Eric Chavez can sometimes squint and imagine that this is the living room of the Lafayette house, the Diablo Base house, the Alamo house, the Walnut Creek house.
He can sometimes squint and imagine that Mark Mulder is still sitting shirtless against the wall under the window, the bar of moonlight across his chest and the silver-fish key on his stomach, refusing to take anything that Chavez wants to give him.