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After majoring at College, Zack becomes a renowned psychologist. His prosperous career contrasts with his love life, which stalled since he and Braden broke up. But the haphazard idea of directing a Psychology conference at his natal city of Chicago during a snowstorm brings him an opportunity to face his past, reflect around it and, even, make up with it.

The hall is crowded. I’m holding a plastic glass with sparkling water while waiting in a corner until the time to come back to the assembly hall. Everybody is speaking quite loud, trying to make themselves heard in this noisy place. Except me. I’m just seeing the people without analyzing anyone. Not now.

            Instead, I’m analyzing myself. Who could tell me, twenty years ago, that I was going to be directing one of the most important Psychology congresses in the whole US? Of course nobody, neither me. Suddenly, Mrs. Gray’s voice, my teacher of Psychology of Groups and Organizations, comes to my head: “Zack, you’re gonna end your Major cause you’re a stubborn, but you’ll never perform as a clinical psychologist.” Well, I guess she wasn’t right, but neither wrong. As a psychologist, I felt useful –I felt people came to me because they needed my help, my guidance. But being the bin where people threw their miseries is for strong and easy-to-clean minds. So I rapidly enrolled a doctoral degree and applied again and again to professor vacancies until I got hired. Congresses organization was a side effect I don’t regret at all –I do love this chance of gather my colleagues from time to time to share latest trends and future researching lines.

            Sometimes I stop looking at people and observe the decoration. It’s quite old and you can see wood wherever you look at, but it fits with the place. I’m secretly proud of having good taste in renting this conference center.

            Now I’m looking through the window. Outside, a street thermometer displays twenty Fahrenheit degrees and snow is heavily falling. The large glass protects me from the humidity of snowflakes, and the heating system warms the air, so I don’t miss my jacket, which is in the luggage I left at the hotel room.

            Fortunately, it’s just across the block. Yep, booking a room to just leave my luggage could seem too much expense, but if you see all that thick white carpet covering the street you’d done the same. I must admit I fear my return flight could be cancelled. Call it intuition, or defeatism if you want.

            I suddenly feel tiredness attacking me, so I hide my mouth behind my hand and discreetly yawn. I swear myself this is the last time I decide to travel the same day I have a conference.

            I’m still finishing yawning when someone’s hand touches my shoulder.

            “Hey, Zack? How are you?”

            That pitchy voice seems too familiar to me. My mind opens its virtual photo album and some faces appear immediately, but I’m still not sure who is he. So I turn and I can’t hide my surprise when I see that blonde, thin guy.

            “Caleb! Long time no see you! How are you doing?” I thoroughly look at him. It’s been fifteen years or so since we graduated, but he seems not to have aged at all, unlike me. He has the same beardless face and the glance of a child. “Didn’t know you were coming. Do you like it?”

            “Oh, seriously? I LOVE IT. You definitely were made for this! Ah, your initial speech was fucking inspiring dude,” he excitedly says. “How it was…? Oh yes: ‘Psychology will never have THE solution to any problem, but it must always be a map with all the routes to the different answers.’” He emphasized each word exactly how I did. “Oh my God, you were inspired, ya?”

            I chuckle when I remember I was about to refuse leading this conference to take a vacation. Of course being flattered doesn’t make up for skipping a rest, but I must admit it’s a bit comforting.

            “Oh, man, ya know. It’s only a summary of too many authors researching for too many years in too many fields.”

            At this point, I must clarify that bullshitting essays at the university did probably not seem a great business, but it definitely helps he when I have to prepare speeches.

            Caleb and I speak for a while before the conference resumes. Then he asks me to keep in touch and I thumb up while running into the assembly hall. I have to introduce the next speaker, who came from Kyoto just to take part and I want to arrive before all audience has entered.

“First of all I want to thank the organization for inviting me,” the Japanese speaker begins from the platform, while staring at the audience. Suddenly he looks back and points at me. “Please, trust me if I say I really don’t know anybody who could refuse an invitation from Zack to participate in one of his absolutely essential conferences about gay self-acceptance.”

            He continues paying some more compliments, but I’m so used to them that I can detect when they are sincere and when they’re just ass-licking. And that compliment doesn’t blush me at all, so I simply look at him and nod with a false smile.

            A sudden thought makes me jump on the chair. I haven’t texted Mikhail! I cautiously pick up my phone and send him a message.

            (You) Hi bro.

            How you doing?

            Your leg already fixed?

            11:39

            One week ago, he had a pool accident. He slipped when leaving the pool and its knee badly twisted. At least that is the official version –I secretly believe the truth is slightly different and evidently NSFW.

            (Mikhail) Hey Zack. Thx 4 ask

Going pretty slow, but already no hurts

11:41

            I realize he isn’t typing as long as he usually does –probably he’s sad and deflated. So I decide to fuck him up a bit.

(You) Great news man

Dude, just curiosity. Ash ok with being top?

And more important, how your ass dealing with it?

11:42

(Mikhail) Fuck you, asshole

11:43

I chuckle and I’m sure he’s doing too. I’d pay all the money in the World to see Ash’s face when reading the conversation. I put my phone in my pocket and take a deep breathe, thinking about them both. Damn, after ten years I still don’t believe he picked me up as his best man when they got married.

Married. Who could bet they would finally love each other? They were so superficial between themselves, too distant, too sex-oriented. And see them now.

A fleck of wistfulness traverses my veins. How long has it been passed since I had my last stable relationship? The time travel brings me to Braden. Nobody after him. I mentally try to count the years I’ve been single and when I’m approaching the answer I shake my head.

I usually think about this matter, but decide this isn’t the best place and moment to do it, so I agree myself on making a truce until the congress has ended.

Suddenly my phone buzzes. I discreetly pick it up. It’s a notification from a dating app. After some hesitation, I stand up and pretend I’m going to the restroom. Once out of the assembly hall, I run the app. It’s a match with a young guy, nicknamed Loki. I do definitely prefer a bit aged, but the guy in the pic has short blond hair and tiny body and seems to have a soft skin. He looks like somebody I know, but I can’t figure out who right now.

(Loki) Seen we matched!

11:59

(Zack) Yep. U like gray hair men?

11:59

Woah! I surprise myself going all out. I usually do it when there is enough confidence, but this impulsiveness is new on me. I look again at the guy’s pic. Finally I realize he looks like Braden when we were at the University.

Is it a good idea? I mean, things with Braden didn’t end pretty fine. Well, in the name of the honesty we haven’t talk since we broke up. Nowadays I still think we have a pending conversation, and from time to time I need to find him, but anger dug so deep inside me that I fear I could say something I might regret later. Besides, if Braden has so anger that me, harmful effects could exponentially grow. So, is it a good idea to meet a gay who looks like Braden? What if he brings to my memory the last months of my relationship with Braden? What if he makes my feelings on Braden, whatever they are, to sprout? What if…?

The bell takes me out from my musings and brings me back to the present.

(Loki) Haha you funny guy.

12:00

(Zack) Funny? Whats funny?

12:00

At this point, he has already awakened my curiosity. I don’t know how long will this conversation lasts –and whatever comes after— but now I want to chat with him to see how is the guy behind that nickname.

(Loki) Really think I believe u are the famous psychologist?

12:01

My heart suddenly jumps and a fire of fury turns on inside me, climbing from my stomach to my head. “I’m”, I type but immediately delete. If I want to be trusted I must be smarter. I look around the entrance hall and I find a table with some newspapers on it. Bingo! I take one of them, take a selfie with the newspaper, making sure today’s date is visible, and send him.

(Zack) Here the proofs

(Image 840KB)

12:03

He doesn’t answer, but he’s still online. I guess he’s chatting with other matches, or maybe he is thinking the answer to my pic. “C’mon”, I think while I begin to walk due to impatience.

Finally, “Writing…” appears under his nickname.

(Loki) Haha u pretty good at photoshop.

12:08

            And Loki becomes offline.

            Damn!

            Despite I hadn’t too much interest in that guy, now I feel my pride hurt. It isn’t the first time people think I’m messing them through the app. So I sometimes consider replacing my pics for another were my face isn’t visible –just the kind of profile I always refuse to interact with.

            I’m facing the way to the assembly hall when my bladder says “Hey, I’m here”, so I diversion to the bathroom. Suddenly, the pic of Loki comes to my mind and my dick slightly awakes, remembering me I’ve been five days without shooting any load. At the urinal I unzip and realize my stuff is hard and pointing to the roof, so I take it out carefully to not hurt me nor unbutton my trousers.

            Another side effect is that now I have pretty difficulties to pee, so I try to think in anything that could help me to calm down my cock. It is about to work when somebody enters the bathroom. It’s a guy in his thirties, with shaved head and wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a leather jacket. He stares at me all the time and chooses the spot next to mine, far enough from the urinal so I can see he’s taking out his trunk by looking sideway.

            And it’s hard and thick.

            And I get hard again. Five days, my head remembers, and my dick nods by pumping twice. So, lost the chance to pee, I face the idea of doing cruising for my very first time or leaving the bathroom to come back to the assembly hall with a pressing boner in my briefs and my balls threatening me with a painful reproach.

            A slimy, repeated sound suddenly fills the room. I slightly turn my head and discover the guy’s jacking off. My dick pumps repeatedly and makes me feel I’m near to cum, but a sudden avalanche of mixed feelings about having an orgasm at a public bathroom near an strange who is jerking off persuades me to keep my dick in my briefs fighting against its anatomy and leave the restroom before I could regret it.

            I return to the assembly hall, stopping every few feet to reposition my cock, which insists on sticking out of the elastic of my underwear. When I reach the door I take a deep breath and go in.

***

The boarding lounge is jam-packed of people going back and forth, while dodging the groups that gather in front of the information screens. The monitors are full of red blinking ‘CANCELLED’ warnings. My flight, just a moment ago labelled with a not less intriguing yellow ‘DELAYED’, has now joined the evil red letters club. I can even hear the devilish laugh of the screen.

            Outside, snowfall has worsened. I ask myself why the hell airport authorities let airlines issue boarding passes while they’re facing a widespread flight cancelation. At this point my annoyance is being beaten by my tiredness so I begin to regret cancelling the hotel booking. Why I had to pay attention to the weather man when he predicted snowfall was going to stop? Definitely, I’d follow my intuition.

            My phone moans inside my pocket. It’s low on battery, so I decide to look for any socket where I can plug it. My body prays there were anyone near a chair or bench where I could rest a bit, but the only free sockets I find are in the middle of a corridor, so my only option is sitting down on the floor, resting my back against the wall, and take my hand luggage next to me.

            Since the first flight went cancelled no PA advise has been broadcasted. I guess I’m facing several hours stuck at the airport before I can definitely depart to home, so I decide to overtake all that multitude and reserve a room in any close hotel just in case there were no rooms in the following few hours.

            “Excuse me, sir, may I plug my phone next to yours?” A slightly pitched voice suddenly asks, taking me off for a moment from my booking task. I just look at the socket and confirm there is one empty slot.

            “Sure,” I say while I nod and gaze again at my phone. However, the man doesn’t move, so I look at him. “Sir, you can plug your…”

            And I freeze.

            No way. No. Nein. Niet.

            “Are YOU who I think YOU are?” my mind thinks, but I can’t pronounce any word.

            “Hi, Zack,” he definitely says.

            I wake up like a spring and hesitate how to greet him. While I think of it, I stare at him. His hair has darkened a bit, a light blonde goatee surrounds his mouth and his body is as developed as the last time I saw him.

            Since we abruptly broke up, we almost haven’t known anything from each other and I don’t know if anger has dampened. A cold feeling rises in my chest and expands through my entire body until I shake in a chill.

            Time has stopped and the world doesn’t move anymore.

            You can bet he was tired of waiting I land from my mental trip because he finally gives me a hug. His warmth feels sincere and defrosts my body and my mind. So I round him with my arms and hug him with the same intensity.

            “Braden! How long, man! How… Where… What are you doing here?!” I manage to ask.

            “Well… I was bored at home and decided to come to the airport,” he says before chuckling.

            My mind isn’t frozen anymore. On the contrary, now my brain is so boiling that I can’t interpret the joke. Even he says something about a photo shoot for Lacoste but I either can understand him. My mind spins while trying to calculate how many years could have passed since we met last time. Four? Six? Eight?

            As I don’t talk he continues: “Bro, your gray hair fits you very well. I’d been expecting a lot to finally say it to you. It is… how could I say it without making you feel uncomfortable? Mmm… It’s hot!”

            I don’t know how, but after so long Braden still knows how to blush me.

            He continued: “The first time I saw you with gray hair was in that TV show. Why was it cancelled?”

            Oh, the TV show. It was a CNN idea where experts from different disciplines gave their opinion about the news. I was the psychologist. The show had so success that lasted only four programs.

            “Meh… It was an audience matter, dude. CNN put too much expectation on it.”

            “Well… You know what? I could have been watching that TV show every night.”

            “So you liked it?”

            Braden chuckles. It’s his universal sign that he’s going to say anything that could blush me.

            “No, you dick. Because of you.”

            And I blush again.

            “Twice in a row, dude. Not fair,” I protest.

            “Oh sorry.” His face seems to redden, but I can’t distinguish if he’s pretending it. “I still win two to one, I guess.”

            We both suddenly start to laugh at the same time. Right now, I have the feeling that if he had any inner anger, it has dissolved. And suddenly I wonder if he’s afraid about me still having my own regrets, he’s trying to dissolve them.

            We keep silent for a while. The silence helps me to reorder my thoughts and I think something inside me must be burning because my mind is full of smoke. Suddenly, a slight breaks in the smoke opens and I can see myself apologizing Braden. The idea gives me stomach pain, so I try to choose a less hurting subject.

            “My flight is cancelled, dude. What about yours?” I ask to break the silence.

            “Mine is delayed,” he answers after checking it at the monitor.

            “It’s pretty crowded here and I’m starting to be thirsty. You wanna some coffee?”

            He stares at me and frowns.

            “Sweetie, I’ve tried but I still don’t like coffee.”

            “You bastard, you can take whatever you want.” I feel coarse language helps me to let off steam, and Braden doesn’t seem disappointed with it.

            “Whatever I want?” he asks while winking. I roll my eyes. “Well, count with me.”

            We grab our hand luggage and look for a no crowded café, which seems an impossible mission cause all spots are taken within the three one we have seen.

            Mmm… table? Maybe we should resign ourselves to taking a nauseating machine coffee. That doesn’t see the perfect plan to make an uncomfortable waiting with an still unpredictable company.

            We pass in front of some duty free stores. Suddenly, the idea of apologizing comes back again but now it’s not so painful cause I realize I won’t see Braden for a long time even if we leave the airport reconciled, so whatever happens, I can apologize and then forget the embarrassment. Besides, he fucking deserves it and probably it will help me to drop a lot of ballast. What I have to do is gather enough courage, which is a huge task for me, unless I get some help.

            We continue walking and, finally, we found a fancy cafeteria.

We are in a distant corner. Braden is exultant to find a free couch, but I would lie if I say I feel comfortable –I would rather prefer a table between us like an imaginary moat. He immediately realizes it and asks me if I want him to take a chair, but not to be rude, I say I’m ok with sharing the couch.

            “I didn’t know you like caramel macchiato,” I tell him. He stares at me and looks at my glass.

            “What about your double expresso with a shot of Ireland whiskey? You used to say adding anything to coffee ruins it.”

            “People change their taste, bitch,” I say while I switch my glance between my drink and Braden, trying to give him an explanation that doesn’t sound weird.

            However, bit a bit, I feel more comfortable speaking with him. While he holds his caramel macchiato and I take sips from my double expresso with some drops of Ireland whiskey, topics switch easily from trivial to more profound matters and, after a while, I feel ready to drop my first bomb.

            “I sometimes remember when we were together,” I say, trying not to give my words a gloomy tone. “And from time to time I try to guess how it could be if we’re still together.”

            “I can’t understand. So you want to come back?”

            “No! I don’t mean that!” I try to defend while my body gets tense.

            He shuts up for a while and stares to his left. I think about what I’ve just said and I’m not sure if I have to regret it.

            “Zack…”

            “Yes?”

            “You know you DID.”

            I bow the glance and try not to seem gloomy, probably with no success.

            “Well… in part I guess you’re right,” I admit while realizing my whisper sounds ashamed.

            “Hey,” he says while caressing my face with his hand. “Don’t be afraid. It happens to me sometimes.”

            I raise my gaze and stare at him. The lump in my throat doesn’t disappear when I swallow. Braden grins in that way I love and hate at the same time, and his eyes glances at me showing a bright that I interpret as something like empathy. I can’t distinguish right now if he’s being sincere or if he has just told me a white lie as consolation. Damn! That grin will always be so confusing!

            “Why did we got distanced?” My voice is out of control and sounds gloomy and shaky.

            He bows his head and I interpret it like an “are you asking me?” so I decide to answer that imaginary question.

            “I’m asking both of us, I guess. I mean, why didn’t either of us stopped the other while we were moving away?”

            Braden suddenly seems to be uncomfortable with the question, but he still stares at me.

            “You’re the psychologist, bro.”

            “I know, but this matter makes me to overthink and I can’t find the way to analyze it objectively,” I confess.

            “Figure me.”

            While this conversation takes place, something has been consuming me inside, like a worm that is born in my stomach and begin to taste every one of my internal organs. It pains, warms and chills at the same time, and makes my throat come alive without my permission.

            “I was an asshole. An entire, complete asshole. I should have understood what you needed when I began all this stuff of conferences, travels and interminable speeches around the country.”

            “Zack, please, don’t be mad at you.”

            “I have to, Braden. I loved you. Damn! I DID LOVE YOU. And our increasing distance made me afraid of not knowing where your new social life was bringing you.”

            He nods with an indecipherable poker face.

            “Yeh, I guess you became so jealous and it overpassed me.” He sighs. “But I ask you not to be unfair with yourself. It was the last straw.”

            “What do you mean?”

            Braden makes a silence, probably looking for the right words.

            “We had too different lifestyles, you remember? You became a bookworm and were having success at your events and conferences. It became at the same time our wrestling team won the State Championship and when I was invited to perform as a model. That opened me a lot of doors.”

            “You better say porn model.” My mouth details without any authorization, which makes me to bit my lip as an immediate regret.

            “See? There was your problem,” he protested. “It was only a pair of clips, and I must remember you were ok with that. ‘Finally you threw your shyness to the bin,’ you said laughing when I ashamedly told you the first proposal. Don’t you remember?” He makes a stop. His face has lost any grin and frowns deeper than ever. “I didn’t know and nowadays I still don’t know when or why things got mess up. But I always guessed the problem was the short time we could share or how our lives were diverging, and even your jealousy on my changing social life. But not the fucking porn stuff.”

            Ok. I have to admit I didn’t expect those booms of sincerity. So, now my body is just a cold marble sculpture. Nothing moves, even a single hair. My lungs suddenly are stiff and I feel I can’t breathe. The only sign of life is some humidity springing from my lachrymal.

            “Uh… I didn’t want to mean that, buddy. I just wanted to screw you a little,” I manage to say while a knife of guilt sticks into my stomach.

Braden deeply sighs, takes my hand and whispers: “Zack, I’m sorry. I just overthought. It’s everything ok. Relax, man.” He keeps silent for an endless second and adds: “I guess this has always been your problem. You always faces your fears by hiding you behind your made-of-jokes walls. And please don’t pretend you have demolished those walls. You just made them smaller, but you still hid yourself behind them.”

And the knife tears upwards to my neck.

            I deeply stare at him when I unsuccessfully try to swallow the lump in my throat. His glance is gloomy as I had never seen on it.

            “Sweetie,” I finally say, and I surprise myself by using such loving word, “you definitely look uglier when you’re sad.” I sincerely thought I had been improving my consolation skills, but I immediately realize I still suck at it. “Probably we were mad when we broke up and we,” I stop and make the proper correction, “and I acted as a fucking idiot by going away, but after several years I look back and I must admit you were, by far, who most changed my entire life.”

            He suddenly jumps on the couch and his eyes and mouths open widely.

            “You mean I changed you, no?”

            “No, Braden. My entire life. Just think of how I was when you met me and look at me right now, speaking of all those stuff I could have buried in the deepest of my memory. You helped me to be sincere and open, and that has opened me millions of doors. Damn, man! I was a kite hit by winds of insecurity and you took my wires and taught me to live among those winds!”

            I still don’t know where I got that metaphor from, and even I don’t know if I could repeat it again.

            “Oh, I think I guess it.” He says still with a surprise face, but immediately it turns into a gloomier one. “But you could have thought about it before leaving home without saying anything.” The sentence ends with an unquestionable reproach tone.

            A pair of tears try to escape from his eyes. I doubt at first, but then I put my hand on his cheek and dry the drop that is just going to run down. At this moment I feel like a fucking shit that have been rotting since I cowardly escaped from our life;

            From the duty of letting our life to progress;

            From the duty of trusting him;

            From the duty of showing him I was learning to be self-confident;

            From the duty of breaking the wires and fly with him without being guided anymore.

            “Dude, it’s not what you’re thinking.” I swallow the frog in my throat, I deeply breathe and try to go on: “I’m not apologizing what I did because it can’t be forgiven. I haven’t forgiven me, and much less now that I know how much I have hurt you. I acted as a fucking asshole and all the shit I have inside me will go with me for the rest of my live. Because I deserve it.

            “But I also need to make you know I couldn’t have reached what I reached if it haven’t been for you. You gave me certainty and self-esteem. You amazed my fucking whole world and it definitely looks better since the precise moment you landed on it.”

            Braden quietly stares. He is silent, and almost not breathing. It seems he has frozen. At that moment, I realize my throat itches and the air in my lungs is heavy as plumb.

            “Thanks,” I finally say.

            My lips are trembling, and Braden’s lips too. He looks at me and I feel a tear dropping from my eye and falling down my cheek. I’m sure Braden is analyzing my face, my gesture, my thoughts. But whatever he’s analyzing, he doesn’t share.

            “You’ve never said it to me, bro. I must admit it means a lot to me, despite all happened in the past.”

            “Never said to you nor to anybody.” My voice is definitely broken and I don’t try to conceal it.

            “Why?”

            I stare at him and take my time to answer. I shrug trying to show him I’m thinking on the right words to be precise and not giving the chance of any misunderstanding. He nods and gives me that time.

            “Probably… uh…” I hesitate, which I know is a bad signal. Why the hell I have forgotten what I have just thought? “Probably I still have some…”

            “…the wall stuff again?” he interrupts, grinding and staring at me.

            “You’ll be always such a fucking smart-ass, won’t you?” I answer smiling at him after slurping my tears.

            “We were together for fifteen tears, darling. There are things, gestures and silences I will always decode.”

            And, silence.

            We stare into each other’s eyes.

            He doesn’t speak, neither I do. We just glance, with a slight smirk, and breathe. At a given time, I realize we are breathing at the same pace, and it’s increasing. He is still beautiful, mother of God, how didn’t I realized until now? Yep, cause I have been acting today the same way I have been doing the past seven or eight years –looking inside me instead of looking around. That’s what brought us to our break up, and what brought me to the loveless man I’m today. Damn! I haven’t learned a shit.

            “Zack, were did you go?”

            “Uh…?”

            “Oh, shit. You still do that fucking travels, ya?”

            He is closer to me, and I can’t guess when he moved. I can feel his knee brushing mine, and his odor soaks the air I breathe until make it intoxicating. Suddenly, his hand lands on my thigh and his smirk seems like a grant to do something I can’t guess right now.

            “Zack…”

            “Mm…?”

            “Ask me what you want to ask me.”

            “Oh! C’mon!” I protest and slap him on the chest. We both roar with laughter and he almost falls from the couch. We take our time until we calm down. “Actually I wanna ask you something,” I finally say.

            Braden opens his eyes. I guess he didn´t expected any question from me. “Sure, shoot!”

            “What’s your flight status?”

            He shakes his head and makes a gesture of disappointment.

            “Why the hell are you changing the subject? What’s the matter with you?”

            “No, man.” I chuckle and point to the information screen with my finger. “I think your flight is cancelled.”

            He stares at the monitor, raises his eyebrows and goes closer to the screen. When he comes with a sad face, I can guess his answer.

            “Cancelled, dude,” he says with a worried tone. “What are we gonna do?” I pick up my mobile phone while he protests again: “But you still owe me an explanation about that change of subject?”

            I turn my phone so he can watch the screen and I show him the room I booked an hour ago.

            “It’s a few kilometers away, at Dream Angel Inn.”

            “Damn! You lucky and arrogant guy,” he says with a grain in his face.

            “Do you wanna come with me?”

            His grain turns into a widely open mouth. I can count the times I caused that expression on Braden’s face on the fingers of one hand.

            “Wait! Are… you… inviting me… to share a room with you?”

            “Just to sleep, dude,” I explain. Immediately, I try to calm him with a suggestion: “If you want, I can call just now and ask for separated beds.”

            Braden sighs in a relaxed gesture, and after some seconds of hesitations, he finally accepts coming with me. “Don’t mind the bed stuff, I won’t be bothered to share a bed with you. Just to sleep!” he finally states, and I nod.

            After paying for the drinks, we go to claims desk. The tanned desk agent is pretty handsome. He is probably around ten years younger than me and I can bet I saw him today at the dating app, but probably we haven’t matched –yet. When I give him my contact info he almost seems like an android, but when he asks Braden I can see a bright in the agent’s eyes, which makes me feel a bit upset. Wait. Why? Braden and me are just nothing right now and we aren’t going to come…

            “Sir, according to the system, your flight is scheduled to depart in about three hours.” The voice sounds melodic as hell, and I feel the agent has enjoyed saying it, not precisely for the good news.

            I suddenly understand what he said, and I freeze near the desk. It must be a mistake. I hear Braden telling the agent something similar, but I’m making a great effort to watch the monitor from here. Yes, his flight shows a heartless red ‘CANCELLED’ remark. I want to scream to the agent but he explains Braden it will be modified in a few seconds. He hasn’t yet finished his sentence when the flight returns to be delayed.

            Braden stares at me. His eyes show both sadness and happiness. Nobody wants to get stuck at an airport, but probably he doesn’t want to disappoint me at all. Definitely, I thank God I’m not in his position.

            I glance at him and nod. I try to hide any sign of dejection and make my face tell him sorta “do the correct thing, sweetie.”

            He comes closer to me and takes me around my waist.

            “Zack, I’m so sorry, but I must go. But please, please, PLEASE, don’t vanish again.” His voice is a powerless whisper. “Text me, text me,” he asks like he is ordering me and, before I can answer, he joins his lips to mine.

            My world stops spinning on his axis and time freezes. That softness, that warm breath, that fire that embraces me while we exchange a tiny trace of humidity trough the tips of our tongues…

            We separate for a moment. My body asks for more, but my mind knows it will be a bad idea and I definitely decide to let him go.

            “Bye,” I can say after fighting against the giant lump I got in my throat. Immediately, I correct the farewell to a more hopeful “see you soon.”

            I have the impression that he’s also doubting. Maybe I have seen him off too early and too impulsively. And, when I’m going to come closer to him, he pronounces an inaudible “see you soon” and makes a gesture that I translate as “text me.”

***

The travel to the hotel is unusually long. Thinking of Braden makes the streetlights to move slower than usual. However, I try to fool myself by believing the cab driver is being too prudent due to the snow. It has been a hard, long day and I have mixed feelings about it. I barely remember anything about the conference –almost all my mind is monopolized by Braden. I feel lighter after apologizing him, but probably too lighter, even almost empty. I feel I miss something. Damn! Am I missing Braden?

            After checking in, I just go to bed. I don’t want to do anything else than just sleep until my phone’s alarm wakes me up to come back to the airport. However, a lot of coming images and moments are boiling just now in my head, and they all are covered by Braden’s face, Braden’s voice, Braden’s odor and Braden’s touch. At times, I feel dizzy and I have to close my eyes to calm down. Finally, I decide to keep them closed and I get relaxed.

An earthquake shakes my head. I wake up –I don’t know how much time has passed— and realize I’m soaked in sweat, so I check the heating control and see it’s set to maximum. That, in combination with me not having taken my clothes off, made me sweat buckets.

            The earthquake feeling comes back. I realize it’s the sound of the door being knocked. Room service, I tell myself. Room service has not come yet, so I go quickly to the door and open it without asking.

            But it isn’t room service.

            My legs suddenly shake and I have to hold on to the doorframe not to fall to the floor.

            “WHAT-THE-FUCKING-HELL-ARE-YOU-DOING-HERE?” my mind thinks, but I can’t pronounce a fucking vowel. I stare at him. His glance is distant and his expression shows he’s as nervous as me.

            “May I come in?” is the only think Braden says. He seems very ashamedly.

            Answering to that simple question takes me several seconds because I’m still processing what is happening. When I land on earth again, I open completely the door and take his arm.

            “Please, do!”

I don’t wait to sit down and immediately ask him: “What happened? Your flight got cancelled again? You…you can stay here whatever you need. I’ll manage to get you your own room.”

            “No.” He stares to the floor. “You must know my flight is departing in half an hour. At the airport I couldn’t say you I forgive you, so I came to do it.”

            “You could have texted me,” I groan.

            Shit. I feel blocked. Shocked. Half dead. My brain loses all communication with the rest of my body. No sound is produced by my vocal cords. No breath of air enters in my lungs. No movement is made by my eyelids, my fingers, my toes.

            He decides not to wait until I come to life again, and hugs me and rests his head on my shoulder. I let myself be hugged and I start to sob. He caresses my nape while whispering: “It’s ok Zack. I’m back.”

            My carousel of thoughts finally stops and fades out. I decide it doesn’t matter what I have lived until now, neither who I am going to share my time with in the future. At this fucking moment, the only thing that matters is this warm feeling, with Braden’s fingers stroking my nape while he softly kisses my cheek.

            I still doubt if it’s a good idea, but as parachutists do one millisecond before jumping from the airplane, I stop thinking and make my lips jump to reach his.

            A flame burns down inside me and I realize every fire I had with another man never felt like this one. This flame warms me and gets me chilled at the same time. I want more, but not faster. It pushes me to frenziedly fuck Braden but also to have him in my arms and sleep together. And that fire gets more violent even when I realize it’s being caused by Braden.

            By. My. Braden.

            For a bit I feel confused and need to separate us. Is it possible that I am using him to calm down my insecurities? Or to relive, for one more night, those happy times when we were together and I thought I had everything I need? Or maybe am I taking advantage of his wistfulness, supposing he’s experiencing it, to have a causal sex night and empty my balls? Or, on the contrary, is he who is using me? And why? And for what?

            I stare at his eyes, looking for any sign of disappointment, discord or emotional neutrality. He grimaces and bows his head.

            “Stop overthinking, Zack,” he says.

            Damn, Braden caught me again.

Before I can ask myself how I could have the awful idea of breaking up with him, he jumps on me and kisses my lips even harder. He pushes me so I begin to walk backsteps until my legs bump into the bed, which makes me losing my balance and fall on the mattress. Braden doesn’t expect it and falls on me.

“You ok?” he asks with a worried expression. My answer is a loud laugh. He smiles and laughs with me.

            We keep kissing while we are taking out clothes off. Then, when we are naked, the feeling of how his body gracefully fits the mine revives. Lips kissing. Tongues soaking themselves. Chests stroking. Dicks rubbing. Thighs pushing each other. All moving with the precision of the most accurate atomic clock.

            The fire is absolutely out of control and threats with burning us when my phone rings. After a second of hesitation, Braden sits up straight astride on me. I take it as a suggestion to pick it up, so I do.

            It’s a message. I open it and read it aloud:

            “Dear Sir,

            “Your flight DAL 0916 to LGA/NY LaGuardia is departing in 4 hours.

            “Please go to claims desks for further information about boarding tickets and transfers.”

            Braden stares at me without any grin in his face.

            “So how much time do we have?” he asks. His voice sounds worried.

            “It depends.”

“On what?” His forehead wrinkles.

“If you mean about the flight, we have all the time we want. I’m not going to go now to the airport.”

“But…” His mouth opens widely. He seems he’s going to protest, but I don’t let him.

            “And if you mean after today, we also have all the time we want.”

            He comes out in goose flesh and, before he can answer me, I push him so he falls on his back and I straddle him.

            “So, let’s begin again”, I finally say, and I kiss him.

THE END