+ malt: Rayn : Did you just say that?
story: second chances ; high school. wordcount: 3618. rating: pg13.
What he finally hears himself say is, "Do you want to go out with me?" MIKE GOES FOR IT!! ...but then it turns out his life is a rigged joke, whoops.
notes : Oh look, it's the piece that almost killed me! Finally! Shayna and Lady Macbeth have both been bugging me about this one as I've been fighting with it for about a month (YES, IT'S THIS ONE)...but here it is, jussst in time for the end of the summer challenge! :D Also featuring Mike's cat.
Phone pressed to his ear, Mike opens the door and steps out onto the porch into the sunshine. It's getting to the point where it's almost too hot to stand around in the sun, but he still appreciates the first minute or so.
"Don't worry about dinner," his father's saying, on the other end of the line. "I'm picking something up."
"Great," Mike says. "Thanks."
"And we can finally talk about that surprise."
Mike squints out across the yard, shading his eyes with his free hand. "The surprise you've been hinting about all week?"
"The very one."
"Is it another cat? Because I can't find ours right now. Oh, wait." Mike finally spots Paul's shaggy gray form, lolling shady spot beside the fence. "Found her. Hey, Paul! Come here, Paul." She rolls over and looks at him before leisurely rising to her feet.
"It's not another cat," Dad says. "One's enough. I'm not a villain."
"Okay. Do I get any other hints?"
His father laughs, the way he does when he wants to change the subject. Then he changes the subject: "Did you decide what you're doing about work?"
"Oh…yeah, I don't know." Mike crouches down to try and coax the cat over. "Leaning towards quitting, I guess. I'm not going to make that much this summer if I do stay on. And I could start looking for something else."
It sounds like Dad is about to say something, but then there's the sound of another phone ringing on his end, and a couple of voices saying something Mike can't make out.
"Hey," Dad says quickly, "Sorry, kiddo, but I need to get back to work. I'll be home at six, okay?"
"Okay, Dad," Mike says. "See you soon."
He ends the call.
Paul is still slowly padding up to the front door, blinking her narrow green eyes like she's still half-asleep. She doesn't so much as glance up at him as she passes, cutting a leisurely path to her food dish in the kitchen. Mike stands up and follows her back into the air-conditioned space of the entryway. He's pulling the door shut when his phone starts to ring again, a quiet buzz against his leg.
He pulls it out again to check the number; it's local, but not one he recognizes. He frowns at it for a second before raising the phone to his ear.
"Hi, Mike?" says the voice on the other end, "This is Rayn."
"Oh! Hi…" Mike glances over the cat. Paul's cat-food crunching seems suddenly very loud. "Um, what's up? I didn't recognize—"
"The number? 'Cause I'm calling you from my new cell phone. Brand new—I'm actually outside the store."
Mike takes a few steps towards the hall. "Really? That's cool. Welcome to, um…modern times." Rayn laughs and Mike grimaces at his own…well, it's barely a joke. "So," he says quickly, "am I your first call, then?"
"Second call. After my mom." Rayn pauses. "So, are you home?"
"Do you want to hang out? I figured I could swing by and see you while I still have the car. If you're not busy."
"Yeah!" Mike says. Or maybe that was too enthusiastic. "I mean, I'm not busy if you want to come by."
"Cool! So, see you in…twenty minutes?"
"Great, yeah. See you then."
"Okay, see you shortly."
"Okay, bye." Mike keeps the phone to his ear for a second until it's obvious Rayn's hung up. Then he shakes his head sharply and glances back towards the kitchen, which he's just realized is kind of a mess. A few feet from Paul, there's a trash bag that's been waiting to go out since yesterday. Beside that, a paper bag's overflowing with Diet Coke cans.
He makes a face and hurries to take out the trash.
When Rayn comes over, they spend a few minutes at the kitchen table, picking at a bowl of almost-stale chips and and talking about cell phones. They compare phones and their paltry selections of games and Mike takes a photo of Rayn, slightly back-lit by the kitchen window, with his. Rayn's brought a couple of Steinbeck books that Mike leafs through at the table: East of Eden and Sweet Thursday, which Rayn thinks he should read first.
"You can keep them if you want," Rayn says. "I'm trying to get rid of a bunch of stuff before, you know. Leaving."
"Yeah," Mike says. "Okay. Thanks." He knows he has a book for Rayn too, but forgets for a second what it is. Leaving. "Do you want any more chips?" he asks instead.
Rayn politely declines and Mike remembers, aloud, that it was Into the Wild he'd meant to go grab. He gestures down the hall, towards his room. "So should I go look for it now, or…?"
Rayn shrugs. "I'll go with you."
As soon as they walk into his room Mike finds the book, in an obvious place on his desk. "I can't believe you never read this," he says, picking it up. When he turns to look at Rayn, Rayn's taking a seat on the foot of the bed where the comforter is lumpy, hurriedly pulled over the bunched up sheets underneath to make the room seem more presentable. Mike sits down on the wooden chair in front of his desk.
"I don't know," Rayn says. "It just never seemed that interesting. I mean, we already know what happens in the end."
Rayn laughs. "You just like it because it's Krakauer."
"Well, yeah. Because he's really good." Mike hesitates for a second, book held out in front of him. "You will read it, right?"
"Yeah, of course." Rayn leans forward to grab the book from Mike's hand. "I was just messing with you. I believe you that it's good."
"Right," Mike says. Rayn glances at the text on the cover and flip to the first page. Mike watches him read, biting a fingernail. There's something he really likes about Rayn sitting on his bed.
When Mike realizes he's staring, he makes himself look out the window instead. Then silently berates himself for thinking he had to do that. It's more obvious now that there's a ticking clock, a limited window left to just swallow his nerves and say something. The way things have been with Rayn the last few months…he can't just be reading into things, right?
Paul catches Mike's eye when she saunters over to the bed and climbs her way up the comforter. She makes a beeline for Rayn, nudging his wrist with her head in a demand to be petted. With a laugh, Rayn sets down the book and reaches over to scratch the cat behind her ears. "Hey, Paul," he says.
Mike sits up straighter, at the very edge of his chair. "Is she bugging you?"
"Nah, she's fine."
Mike takes the excuse to move to the bed. The mattress dips in the center when he sits down, and for a second, his leg touches Rayn's. Paul looks up and turns around in a circle to gently butt Mike with her head.
"So are you, like…ready to leave?" Mike asks, burying his fingers in the fur of the back of Paul's neck.
"I guess, yeah." Rayn rolls over onto his back to stare up at the slow-spinning ceiling fan. "I mean, I have to pack. But I can't really do that until right before." He turns his head to look at Mike. "What about you—I mean, what are your plans for the rest of the summer?"
"Well, I'm…quitting my job." Mike laughs without meaning to; Rayn looks surprised.
"Yeah, or I'm off for the summer. The boss likes to hire new people for the summer so hours get cut back." Paul twists away from Mike's hands to trot back to Rayn. Mike brushes stray cat hair from his fingers. "So, um…I'll have a lot of free time, I guess. At least until I find something else."
"Cool." Rayn grins, his face upside-down. His expression turns to a grimace as Paul sets her front paws on his stomach. He nearly sits up when the cat starts kneading him with her paws. Mike is slow to grab her and pull her off, because of all the hilarious, flinching expressions Rayn is making.
"Sorry," Mike says, biting back a laugh. Paul allows herself to be handed for about two seconds before squirming from Mike's grasp and bolting under the bed.
Rayn makes another face, pressing his hand to his stomach. "It's okay," he says, sitting up. "When we were in LA, we had a cat that did it all the time. I think I heard somewhere that it's something they do when they're taken away from their mothers too soon."
"My dad calls it a cat-massage."
Rayn smiles. "We called it 'making bread.' Like, hey, kitty's making bread."
"I like that," Mike says. "I don't think I knew you'd ever had a cat."
"Well, it was a long time ago."
Mike just nods, because he's not sure if it's a sore spot. Rayn's family leaving LA. Rayn doesn't say anything else either and as Paul's gone quiet under the bed, the only sound is suddenly the ceiling fan. Mike peers under the bed for Paul, just for something to do. When he sits up straight again, Rayn has rolled over onto his stomach again and is propped up on his elbows, looking at him.
"What?" Mike asks.
Without breaking eye contact, Rayn stretches out his hands and lays his fingertips on Mike's leg, just above his knee. Somehow keeping a straight face, he moves his hands in a a good approximation of Paul's kneading. Mike laughs, but it comes out quieter than he meant to. Rayn grins.
"Cat massage," he says.
Mike opens his mouth to say something, but suddenly he isn't sure what.
What he finally hears himself say is, "Do you want to go out with me?"
Then he seizes up.
Rayn is blinking at him blankly, looking about as stunned as Mike feels. Mike feels the sudden rush of blood to his face and he has to resist the urge to clap his hands over his mouth.
"Really?" Rayn says.
Mike feels like his stomach's just done a somersault. "Oh, I just meant—I didn't mean it like—" he starts to say. Then he groans, covering his face with his hands. "Except no, I did mean it like that. I guess I, uh…since you're leaving and we only really have the summer so just if we could like…go out somewhere, we could, uh…" He looks out from behind his fingers. He should really stop digging this hole.
Rayn looks at him for a few second longer, as if trying to discern whether he's done or not. Then his mouth twitches up in a half smile and he says, "Yeah, okay."
Mike feels another jolt of shock. "Yeah?" He searches around for something else to say. "So, like, um…this weekend maybe?"
Rayn pushes himself up into a seated position, the bedsprings creaking underneath him. "Yeah," he confirms, "But I can't this weekend. Mom's taking us up to see her sister and we're all going to this family reunion thing. We're leaving early Saturday."
"So…when will you get back?"
"Weekend after that," Rayn glances down at his hands like he's suddenly self-conscious. "Does that work for you?"
Mike can't hold back his grin. "I'll check my calendar."
"Cool," Rayn says. He grins too. He looks like he's going to say something else when his phone suddenly comes to life on the bed, sounding the generic Nokia ringtone. For a second, Rayn looks confused.
Mike points to the phone. "That's you."
"Oh, right," Rayn says. He picks up the phone and glances at the display. "It's my mom. She must want me the car back—I should probably…"
"Yeah," Mike says. "Yeah, go ahead."
Rayn shoots him an apologetic glance as he steps into the hall, phone to his ear. "Hello?"
Mike can hear Rayn's half of the conversation trailing out of the other room, but he isn't really listening. He isn't paying attention to much of much of anything until Paul creeps out from under the bed and rubs her face against his pantleg. Mike realizes he's been holding his breath. He reaches down and idly scratches her behind the ear, before she digs her claws into his leg and he has to shake her off. As Paul darts off down the hall, Rayn reappears in the doorway, still on the phone.
"No, it's fine, I'll come right back. Yeah, don't worry about it, Ma." He glances at Mike. "Yes, see you in a sec," runs into, "Hey, I'm really sorry, but I have to go."
"It's fine," Mike says. He grabs the book from the bed and holds it out to Rayn. "Take this, though."
"Oh, yeah. Thanks."
When their fingers brush, Mike can't help smiling.
Walk him to the door and don't say or do anything stupid, he tells himself. Don't spoil it.
Mike walks back to his bedroom in a daze. The best thing he can think of to do is flop backwards on his bed. The ceiling fan is still going above his head and he watches it, a smile slowly spreading across his face.
Did he actually just do that? Did he actually just ask Rayn out?
Did he actually get a yes?
He can feel his heart still beating an advanced tempo in his chest. He wants to save the moment somehow, to swallow it and keep it. He wants to pick up the phone and find someone to tell. He wants to keep it to himself, as long as possible, like saying it out loud might jinx the whole thing. He glances over to Paul, now curled up by the pillows Ridiculous, wonderful Paul. He reaches over to gently pet her back, replaying the moment in his head. Rayn had said yes. After what seems like an eon of wondering and denying, he feels almost vindicated. And, he decides, he's not going to think about the fact that Rayn's leaving in less than two months. Two months is a long time, it has to be a long time. He's not going to think about it. He's just going to bask in the moment.
After all this time, Rayn wants to go out with him.
He doesn't think about his dad or his dad's surprise until he hears the front door open and realizes he'd been lying there for almost an hour.
They push aside the pile of homework and papers and arrange the styrofoam containers from Chuck's Barbecue along the kitchen table. Mike's father snaps the plastic lid off the tub of pulled pork and inhales as if appraising it. "Do you want to try some pork this time?" he asks Mike. "The sauce is really something else."
Mike returns to the table with the plates and silverware. "Sure," he says, "why not?" He sinks down into one of the chairs and smiles as he passes a Dad a plate. "Here you go."
"You seem like you're in a good mood," Dad remarks. He takes his plate and sits down. "What's up?"
Mike opens a container of collard greens. His shrug is probably eclipsed by the fact he can't stop smiling. "Just a good day."
"You going to tell me anything about it?"
"Aren't you supposed to tell me about a surprise or something first?"
Dad swallows a bite of dinner, looking thoughtful. "Did I say there was a surprise?"
His father laughs, swiping a napkin across his mustache. "Of course I'm going to tell you. I was just trying to get all the details taken care of."
Details? Is this something big? Mike feels the first prickle of anxiety. "Dad, what is it?"
"Well," Dad says, laying his hands flat on the table, "I was thinking about last year, about the holidays and meeting my family and how that didn't go…quite as well as I would have hoped. But I recently got back in touch with one of my oldest friends, who's always been more like a brother to me than my real brother." Dad pauses to take a drink of water.
"Okay," Mike says, because he's not sure what else to say.
"So I was thinking that I'd really like for you to get a chance to get to know him and his family. For you to have some kind of support system that's not my crazy family. Just in case."
His father holds up his hands. "I'm not planning on going anywhere, don't get me wrong. But I think it would be good for you to have that."
"Okay," Mike says, swallowing the sudden weird feeling in his throat. He'll never get used to talking about this. "So…I don't get it. Why is this a surprise?"
"Oh, that's not the surprise. Well, it's part of it…" Dad seems distracted now, picking a fleck of something out of the green beans.
"So?" Mike prompts.
"Oh! Yes. I wasn't finished. I was telling you about my friend—Peter is his name, I've probably mentioned him. Anyway, we used to do rodeo together. And now he's running a rodeo school out in Wyoming." He looks up at Mike when he says, "And he's invited us to come stay on the ranch for a couple of weeks."
Mike's about to try a bite of the pork, but the fork doesn't make it to his mouth. "What was that?"
"He's invited us to stay on the ranch for a couple of weeks. You know, where the rodeo school is. Wyoming."
Mike sets down his fork. "What?"
It comes out too quiet for his father to hear. "It'll be fun!" Dad is saying. "It's a long drive, sure, but I would have loved to do something like this when I was your age."
"But I'm not—I don't—I'm not into riding horses or…"
"So what? There'll be all kinds of other things to do: hiking, fishing, hanging out by the campfire. And the weather? Beautiful. It sure won't be as hot as it is here."
"Wait," Mike says. An icy feeling is starting to bloom somewhere inside his stomach. "When are going to Wyoming? Like now? Like this month?"
"I know it's kind of short notice. But I didn't want to tell you before I was sure I could take the time off work. But we're not swamped at the office for once and you've been talking about quitting your job for the summer, so…"
"When?" That comes out a little more desperate than he would like.
Dad laughs, gesturing with his fork. "Don't worry, we're not leaving tomorrow or anything. Not until the end of next week. Friday. That'll give us plenty of time to pack and get everything in order."
"Oh," Mike says. It comes out in a puff, like he's just been punched in the stomach. He looks down at his plate and drags his fork through the stringy pork.
"I know it's not your ideal summer vacation," his father says. "But I want to spend some quality time with you. I can't believe it, but you'll be graduating in a year, and…" Dad's voice takes on that wavy tone it gets when he's knows he's being sentimental. "I think this will be good, Mike. And I really want to share this with you."
Mike closes his eyes. It's everything he can do to open them again and put on a smile. "I know, Dad," he says, looking up, "It's okay. It was just…"
"Yeah," Mike says. "A surprise."
In his bedroom, with the door closed, Mike sits down on his bed and stares at his phone.
He's done the numbers in his head a couple of times, and the result's always the same. They'll be leaving before Rayn's back, then gone for three weeks. Give or take, Dad said, with a hint in his voice. Mike figured it meant he might want to stay longer. And even the three weeks would be closer to three-and-a-half once the drive was factored in…
They'll be back before Rayn leaves for college, but for how long? A week? Maybe two. Fuck. He can't justify that—it's just not worth it. Mike sets the phone back on the bed and buries his face in his hands.
He should not be feeling so abjectly miserable about this—not while his father is in the other room, so pleased by the idea of this trip that he's actually humming. And now he feels guilty on top of the overwhelming disappointment and briefly wonders if he's going to puke.
He's not. He's going to pick up the phone and call Rayn and cancel and explain and say, please, let me take it back, because this isn't how you part ways with someone. You can't just leave something like that hanging in the air between you, naked and unresolved…
But you can't take it back either. Not really.
Drawing a long shaky breath, Mike reaches for his phone. He's not going to wax poetic about this. He's just going to keep it simple and tell Rayn about the trip and try to act like this isn't the biggest fucking disappointment of the last four years.
He reaches Rayn's voicemail and tells it to a machine.
Gasp! The missing piece leading up to ye olde rodeo summer! Only like three or something years late, right???
Now you know why this (surprise [type b], lolll) is even more awkward than you thought!
I might go collapse now. IDK why this piece was so damn difficult to write, but it was :O IT'S JUST SO UNFORTUNATE.