"You feeling sober yet?"
Danny was standing on the two square feet that constituted Casey's balcony, leaning on the railing that separated him from hundreds of feet of air.
Danny lifted his head off his arms.
"You feeling sober?"
"I have water."
Casey hesitated. "It's just that you don't sound great."
Danny pushed himself up off the rail.
"I knew they were in counselling, but I never thought it would take."
I'm a smart guy, Casey, but I never saw her going back to Steve Sisco."
"Why don't I see these things coming?" Danny turned around. "You knew."
Casey waved his arm, awkwardly, brushing the suggestion away.
"How did you know?"
"I'm serious, Casey. How did you know?"
Casey cleared his throat. "Sometimes people make bad choices. Choose things that are wrong for them."
Dan made a face like he'd tasted something sour. "It wasn't like she chose a guy who wanted to live in Paris, instead of near her Mom in Baton Rouge."
"I know, Danny."
"He took her to places she didn't want to be, Casey."
"And I'm not talking about FAO Schwartz on the day before Christmas."
"I'm talking about sex clubs."
"I know, Danny. You told me right after Kim told you."
Dan leaned against the railing again, his back to the city. "I think he might have hit her."
Casey took a sharp breath. "Danny—"
Dan's back stiffened. "You want to know the really messed up part?"
"I'm not so much afraid that he'll hurt her again, although God knows that's a distinct possibility." Dan's eyes met Casey's, and there was so much pain in them that something in Casey's chest rattled. "I'm mostly wondering why I'm the guy who comes second to a guy who hits his wife and forces her to go to places she doesn't want to be."
"Am I so bad?"
It was the drink talking, it had to be. Because, in a month of Sundays, Danny would never have wanted Casey to hear that pleading tone in his voice.
"No, dude. You're a catch. A prize."
Dan took that in.
"So why is it that I'm 28 years old and I've never had even the ghost of a relationship?"
"A lot of guys our age haven't met the right woman."
"Is that what you think this is?" Dan sounded defeated.
Casey swallowed. So this is it. The night we do this. And it had been coming for so long that Casey almost forgot the plan. The plan for bringing this up in a way that wouldn't make Dan spook like a half-broken pony.
"Can I ask you something Danny? Without you taking a swing at me?"
"What?" Dan looked up.
"What kind of porn do you like?" Casey's expression was serious.
"What kind of—." Dan's face started to flush slightly, just under his cheekbones. "What kind of question is that?"
"It's a personal question. Some might even call it rude." Casey's voice was firm. "Will you just trust me, okay? I'm your best friend, and I'm asking you a question."
"I don't know." Dan's shoulders were hunched, and he sounded as sulky as a child. "What kind of porn do you like?"
"Vanilla, mostly. No BDSM. No pain. Everyone enjoying themselves. Asses, and flat stomachs, and blow jobs." And this was The Plan, and he'd practiced like crazy so that Dan wouldn't hear the awkwardness in his voice.
"Jesus, Casey." Dan's nose was wrinkled in revulsion.
Casey shrugged. "What? Are you telling me you've never once looked at porn."
"It's degrading. Objectifying."
"Yeah, it's both of those things." Casey looked at him, considering. "But are you telling me you've never used any."
Dan's face was on fire. "No."
"So what was it?" Casey softened his voice. "You can tell me anything, Danny. Whatever you're into is okay with me."
He watched Dan weigh his words.
"Whatever I'm into?"
Casey almost laughed at the unerring way with which Dan identified any possible loophole that may deprive him of friendship. Of love. He touched his arm and Dan stiffened under his fingers.
"If it's something illegal, or making you feel bad, then we can get you some help, my man." Dan looked away, still propped against the wooden rail, staring at the concrete floor of the balcony.
"My Dad found this magazine I'd hidden under my mattress. When I was 16." He rubbed his nose. "He was fixing my bedside lamp, and kinda knocked the mattress so it was sticking out."
The look of misery on Dan's face made Casey's jaw clench tight. "What did he say?"
Dan took a shaky breath. "He said nothing, Case. He dropped it on the bed like it burned his hand, and didn't talk to me for a week."
Casey put his hand back on Dan's arm. "Because of the pictures of guys?"
Dan jerked away like Casey had hurt him.
"How did—. Jesus." He clutched his hair with his hands. "Fuck, Casey. How—"
"Danny, calm down. It's okay."
"It's not. It's not fucking okay." And Dan's voice was cracking all over the place, like a crust of ice on a puddle. "It's never been okay. It wasn't okay at school, and it wasn't okay with my Dad. I thought it would be okay at Dartmouth, and I wanted to talk about it with someone who knew me, so I told—"
He broke off and brought his fist up to his face, pressing it so hard against his mouth that his lips turned white under his knuckles.
"Told who, Danny?"
"It's not important."
"Yeah, Danny," Casey said. "It is."
"Casey, will you just leave it alone?" There were tears in Danny's voice.
"I think maybe I've left this alone for too long."
Casey took a step forward and slid his arm along Danny's shoulders, who turned his head away, his body rigid.
"It's okay with me," Casey gentled. "What you are is always okay with me."
And Danny sagged against him like his batteries had run down, leaning his head against Casey's shoulder.
"What happened, Danny?"
Danny sighed, and Casey felt his breath on his neck. "I told Sam, Case. I told Sam and he was so disgusted that he lit himself up and ran a stop-sign."
Casey had thought about it a lot, sitting in his apartment alone. It had taken him a while to realise that Danny's brittle obsessions with women were a papier mache shell over the truth. He'd guessed that whatever problems that Danny had had in coming to terms with himself, Jacob Rydell had been at their root. He hadn't counted on this.
"You don't know why Sam got messed up and then drove." Casey's palm rested against the back of Dan's neck, feeling the warmth of his skin under his fingers. "But if it was because you told him that you liked guys and he couldn't deal, then that's the world's fault. It's the world's fault for telling boys that loving another guy makes you less of a man, but hitting your wife and working so hard you never see your kids makes you more of a man."
Dan mumbled into Casey's neck.
"I can't hear you, man." Casey squeezed his fingers against Dan's skin.
"I said, 'How are you okay with this?' "
Casey paused. "I think we need a beer. Or some coffee."
"Coffee's good." Dan lifted his head off Casey's shoulder. "Coffee's great."
Dan sat at the table in Casey's kitchen while Casey futzed with the coffee maker.
"The way I'm okay with this," Casey said, his back to Dan. "Is that there's nothing to not be okay with."
Dan coughed, and it sounded like disbelief. "That your wordsmith A game you're busting out right there?"
Casey was scooping coffee into the filter , lips twitching. "I mean, I feel like there's nothing to not be okay with. Truly."
"So, if Charlie wanted to head up the 2015 Pride parade wearing a silver tutu, you'd be okay with that?"
Casey whirled around. "You think I'm going to give a good goddamn who Charlie sleeps with?" He blinked. "When he's old enough to sleep with anyone that isn't a stuffed bear."
He slid the coffee pot into the maker, and swung one leg over the nearest chair.
"All I want for Charlie is for him to be happy." Casey bobbed his head. "For him to be with someone who makes him happy and treats him right."
Danny's mouth twisted. "When you say stuff like that it makes me realise how lucky Charlie is."
Casey touched Dan's arm. "Every kid deserves that."
"But not every kid gets that."
Dan stared at the table.
"Do you want to talk about it? Your Dad?"
Dan sighed. "There's nothing to talk about. He didn't want me to be this."
"This, as in gay?"
Dan sighed again. "This, as in anything. This, as in a sports reporter. This, as in on TV. This, as in wanting to fuck guys."
"How long?" Casey said, carefully. He was aware that he was walking on ground as fragile as spun glass. That the conversation could shatter around him at any point.
"Since always." Dan reconsidered. "I realised in seventh grade. I was watching Kevin Bannister talk about Miriam Gold's boobs and I knew that I wanted to kiss him. I went to the bathroom and threw up. I wanted to die."
"God, Danny." Casey's eyes were dark. "And you didn't talk about this with anyone?"
"Only Sam." Danny chewed on his lip. "I went on a roadtrip while I was at Dartmouth, with this guy called Jonathan." He looked away. "Lost my virginity."
"And since then?" Casey was frowning.
"Random hook-ups. It wouldn't be good for the show for me to be on Page Six with my hand down some guy's pants."
"Screw the show."
Dan raised his eyebrows. "Screw the show? Screw the show?"
"You know what I mean."
"I'm not sure I do, Case."
"I mean that you shouldn't have to live the rest of your life like this."
"Like what?" There was something dangerous in Dan's tone.
"Ashamed of who you are."
"So I'm supposed to leap out of the closet on national television? Make myself unemployable in sports?"
"Like there aren't gay men and lesbian women in sports."
"There are thousands of professional sportsmen and women in this country. Can you think of any who are still playing and out?"
"You're not a professional sportsman."
"No, but I need to make contacts with professional sportsmen. And who wants to have their picture taken in a bar with Dan Rydell, the flag-waving gay sports presenter."
"Yeah." Casey stood up and poured coffee into two mugs. He handed one to Dan.
"It's not like I haven't given this some thought."
"And yet," Casey blew on his coffee. "You never thought to talk about it with me."
"I didn't want to make you uncomfortable."
Casey looked at Dan, who was curled over his mug like it was a fire and he was a caveman in need of some warmth.
"Why would this have made me uncomfortable."
Dan quirked his lip, staring into his mug. "You know."
"I don't think I do."
Dan looked up. "I appreciate this, Case. I really do. I just know that this isn't the kind of thing that you're comfortable talking about."
Casey raised his eyebrows. "I know that you labour under the apprehension that you're much cooler than I am, but you're the one acting like it's the late nineteenth century and you're about to be hauled off to Reading jail."
Dan blinked slowly. "Did you just make an Oscar Wilde reference?"
Casey smiled. "I love Oscar Wilde. The Importance of Being Earnest nearly made me piss my pants."
"And you think this makes you some kind of metrosexual who knows what I'm going through?"
"I don't know how you feel, Danny." Casey ran his tongue over his teeth. "But I do have something more than theoretical empathy for men who find men attractive. I slept with a couple of guys in college."
Dan's head jerked, like it was on a string and his puppeteer's hand had just twitched. "What?"
"You heard me." There was a faint smudge of redness on Casey's cheeks.
Casey watched Dan trying to get his head around Casey's hand on some guy's cock. Casey on his knees making some guy come. Casey lying in bed, his legs tangled with some other guy's.
Dan shook his head. "This kind of changes everything."
Casey watched him sip his cooling coffee. "I hope so."