This couple will always be something else to me. I want to say they taught me what true love is, but if I said something as terrible corny as that I would have so slap myself. So.
Cheers, and enjoy.
Correlation of Fondness
…the farther you go, the louder I miss you…
The day before his first day of work he calls Rusty.
They talk about nothing at all, careful to avoid the subject of what Rusty's doing now. But from what Danny can tell he's in Canada, working a long con with Saul and some old-timers.
He's so jealous it hurts.
Every week since, it's the same thing. They laugh and joke and don't talk about work.
Danny buys a map and tracks Rusty's movements around the world. From Hawaii to Russia to South Carolina and all the way back to Hollywood.
But never anywhere near Cincinnati, Ohio.
(It's not jealously this time.)
The first day is the hardest.
On the first day he throws up in the bathroom after four hours of it. The overwhelming smell of coffee. The smiling people. The cubicle.
Five by five feet of utter hell. He'd never thought of himself of a bad person, quite the opposite in fact, but he must've done something to deserve this.
A cubical was not something he had bargained for and not something he would stand for.
It doesn't take him long to track down the boss and convince him there's some kind of terrible mistake. And he supposes that it's conning (but not really because him being here is really the worst kind of mistake) but there are some things he won't let happen without a fight.
Working in an office at all used to be one of them.
His boss stutters apologies, telling him that they have a shortage of building space (he glances around the office and says nothing) and usually only the most senior employees—
(He waits for Rusty to answer before remembering.)
The pause stretches to breaking, Danny's boss waiting awkwardly for him to say something before he apologizes again.
Of course, they'll gladly make an exception.
He's led down a floor and stops to knock at a door at the end of a narrow hallway. The man opens the door cautiously, eyes widening as he sees who's there.
The man—Adam Simmons, he introduces himself as with the faintest hint of a lisp—is tall, taller then Danny but hunches his shoulder in a way that makes him easy to overlook. His eyes under his receding hairline are a pleasant brown but dart anxiously around the room, a cornered animal as he closes the door behind them.
Something about the man gives him goose bumps.
Danny gives him his best reassuring smile, his own eyes sweeping the room. Adam's desk is stacked with boxes, as is the rest of the office; he must've just been moved in or maybe he's reorganizing. A single window looks out onto the street outside.
A constant reminder of where he is. But it's better then nothing.
Over the street and between the buildings is a small square of blue sky. Yes, definitely better.
His boss (he can't get used to these words, these ideas: he has a boss, he is an employee) pats Adam on the back in what Danny is sure he thinks is a sympathetic manner and tells him not to bother unpacking.
Adam's head snaps up to look at them; the instant his eyes meet Danny he looks back down at the floor.
But it's too late. Panic, plain and simple.
It seems he's not the only one who spends his lunch break throwing up in the bathroom.
(And whatever else he is, he's not a bad person.)
It's been three weeks. The overwhelming smell of coffee. The smiling people. The cubicle.
The first day might be the hardest but it sure as hell doesn't get any better.
He comes home to her refurbishing the house. Again.
Shaking his head he asks her why she insisted on a house—"A place for us. Something that's ours."—If he's not going to recognize it every other week he comes home.
"I had just gotten used to the fish too."
Tess ignores his half-hearted (half-hearted, yes, somehow that fits) attempt at humor.
"It just doesn't work," she sighs, frustrated, hands smeared with paint, hair in disarray and nose scrunched the way it always is when she's trying hard to understand something.
Another time, another place he would've kissed her. Would've let the paintbrush fall from her hand and the briefcase from his. He would've made love to her gently on the shiny-new floor, worshipping her body with his hands.
But this is here, this is now.
He is a respectable man coming home from work with more of the same to finish for tomorrow. He is a man who smiles half-heartedly (that word again, but yes it fits, it fits) at his also respectable wife and drags his tired body to bed.
This man who came home is not who he once was; it's Daniel Wasser.
Respectable. Reliable. Hard-working. A good citizen.
(Tired. Listless. Ageing. Half-hearted.)
He lies in bed and looks up at the purple ceiling –"It matches the new curtain fringes, Danny, honestly didn't you notice?" –and wishes he were somewhere else. He wants to be, well, and he pauses, fastforwards the unfinished thought with the ease of practice.
Shortly afterward, Tess snuggles up in bed next to him, whispering something in his ear.
"I love you, Danny."
He closes his eyes and pretends to be asleep.
"So," he asks, "What's her name?"
Danny wonders later if he shouldn't know, if he shouldn't recognize the way Rusty's voice sounds after sex, low and rolling his vowels more then usual.
He doesn't get a name anyway, so it doesn't actual matter.
He never thought it would be easy.
Ok, so that's a lie. He'd expected it to come naturally. After the conning and acting and pretending he knew it wouldn't be hard to fit in.
And it wasn't. They arrived with the moving vans and barley hours thereafter they were invited to their first of many neighborhood barbecues. He spun outlandish tales of office mishaps and Tess rolls her eyes, the women nodding along with her.
Men: can't live with them, can't leave without them.
Danny is about discover exactly what he can't live without.
(Because it's the not pretending that's hardest.)
In the end it boils down to this:
Wife. House. Job. Car.
He repeats it over and over again in his head as if afraid he'll forget and do something like-
Like rob a bank.
Because robbing banks is a very wrong, very bad thing to do.
(Or so people keep telling him; why? Probably because its fun.)
Anyway it's not like he needs the money. Or the thrill of the con. Or anything else related to heist and illegal and a the-one-time-a-Backward-Sally-King-would-be-appropriate.
He doesn't need all that nowadays.
He has a job to keep his mind occupied; he'll be the first to admit working in the office takes some getting used to but that doesn't mean he won't. It just takes time, he's sure. Besides, he's a model citizen now.
Upholding the American values of hard work and dedication. And honesty, don't forget.
As to the thrill of the con, the adrenaline and otherwise, well, he has his wife. And his new golfing friends.
Tess. He just has to focus on that.
His wife, whom he loves enough to give up his life of adventure and riches. He really believes that with Tess he can build a new life; a happy one with a rose garden and taxes that are, for once, actually paid. More than that, he wants this life.
He loves Tess, okay?
(One thing he admits to, though, is missing Rusty.)
Lunch the following week.
Danny is hiding from his co-worker buddies in the bathroom; the third stall from the left that always flushes twice (yes, he knows this place pretty well now) and is surprised by Adam.
"'Lo." He says pleasantly, pretending to dry his hands off.
Adam smiles at him, or tries to. The corners of his mouth turn upward but the overall effect is more of a grimace then a friendly grin.
"Thanks." Adam says, hands playing with the edges of his tie, "For not, you know."
Danny nods, unsure of what to say.
They stand there in awkward silence, Adam shifting from side to side and Danny watching him, calculating. Scrambling for something to say.
(This is where you step in, wait, never mind.)
With a final nervous tug of his tie Adam nods once and leaves.
They never talk again.
"So. I was thinking I should come and visit you next month since I'm in the area."
The word 'yes' burns his throat on the way up, he wants to say it so bad. But at the last second he forces it back down; in the window reflection he can see Tess looking at him, suspicion and betrayal in her eyes.
Things haven't been so great lately. In fact, they've been pretty bad.
(There's been a series of mysterious break-ins in the neighborhoods, nothing stolen.)
Tess hasn't talked to him all day and he feels sick. It wasn't supposed to be this hard, you know? It wasn't supposed to feel so much like, not conquering an addiction, but trying to breathe in water.
"Sorry Rus'," his voice sounds brittle and fake, "But next month probably won't work out. Work stuff, you know."
A choked laugh. Him or Rusty?
Then the beeping of the phone line. Danny stares at it in shock.
Did Rusty just hang up on him? No, probably the phone lines were cut, right? Had they paid the bills? Yes, he was sure of that. Was Rusty in trouble, did someone jump him? Knock the phone out of his hands?
He calls back. Once. Twice.
"Hello, this is Rus'. Leave a message and we'll try and get back to you. Bye."
Breathless laughter in the background, shushing noises, more laughter and the sound of a lock clicking.
(Yeah, he remembers that.)
Tess comes up to him, face as blank as she can manage (not at all) and asks casually:
"So is Rusty coming by?"
He doesn't look at her, doesn't need to. She smiles at him, the first time since she heard.
"I was thinking, maybe we could go out for dinner tonight?" Tess asks, shyly, looking down as her paint-splattered nails, "Relax for an evening?"
She smiles up at him, warm and innocent. Genuinely relieved.
"I'd love to," He says and ignores the way his smile stretches like plastic.
They go out to dinner and have too much over-priced wine.
Giggling like horny teenagers, they can't keep their hands off of each other. Danny feels something inside of him loosening, something clicking back into place. When they go back past midnight, in a cab no less, it feels, for the first time, like he's coming home.
Tess kisses him.
"Sorry," she says, "I know this is hard for you."
So is cutting off your arm, he wants to say, but people still do it when they have to.
Instead, Danny kisses her back, long and hard, because he doesn't think she would understand exactly what he means. Mostly, because there are things that he doesn't like to say out loud.
(It's not a lie if you don't say it out loud.)
Plus, they have fucking amazing make-up sex.
Danny wakes up the next morning, a hangover draped over him like the arm of a good friend, and smiles. Tess wakes up and groans.
"Stupid," She says, cradling her head, "That was stupid of us. Irresponsible."
(Why? Probably because it was fun.)
She pops an aspirin, kisses him on the cheek and leaves for work.
He lingers in bed, and wonders what Rusty is doing right now. Danny shouldn't feel guilty for the thought but he does.
The answering machine message gets changed.
"Hey, this is Rusty. Leave a message and I'll get back to you."
He should stop calling. Instead, he checks out sick for a week and listens to the dial tone on the other end.
Tess doesn't know. It's not that he's lying when he answers her how was your day with a casual nothing special. Guilt is like an expensive watch he carries around with him to check the time.
No wait, that's his phone. They both tell him the same thing anyway.
(You're fucking up.)
He has their anniversary planned out weeks in advance.
First, he takes her out on a friend's boat where they spend the day together. Even though the air is brisk, it's invigorating instead of unpleasant and the water is crystal-clear blue and still, a flawless mirror.
They look beautiful together, flushed cheeks and tousled hair.
When the sun sets over the water, he brings them to a waterside restaurant.
He's made a reservation for a private booth illuminated by soft candlelight and tasteful classical jazz. Everything is perfect.
They hold hands laughing and, just like that, everything is okay again. In alignment.
Wife. House. Job. Car. But all that really matters is Wife. And she's right there next to him, beautiful and loving and his. Danny feels like the luckiest man alive, as star-struck as the first time he met her.
She's beautiful, a goddess. Dark tumbling curls and a soft smile.
The menu is high-end, classy, and Tess orders buttered crab and a glass of water.
Danny grins at her over the tabletop and orders himself.
"A glass of red wine, for me."
He scans the list.
"Two orders of the cuttlefish cooked in a stew with tomato sauce, one order of the grilled dentex and a lobster, that is a full lobster right? And, let's see, oh yes! A side order of octopus. Actually make that two. We'll order dessert afterward."
Tess is staring at him.
"What?" he asks confused.
"We can't eat that much, Danny."
Now, it's his turn to stare at her. What is she taking about?
He stops. Oh.
Still, he presses on stubbornly.
"Sailing makes a man hungry."
He looks at the waitress expectantly; she nods, tucking away her notebook away, and disappears back inside the kitchen.
Tess is right, of course. They don't even finish half of it.
In fact, Danny can barely choke down a bite.
(He orders dessert anyway.)
They box it and bring it home. Tess teases him about big eyes and small stomachs, filling up the silence. She tells him not to feel guilty; they'll finish it up tomorrow so that it doesn't go to waste.
In the middle of the night he slips out from under her arm and goes to the kitchen. He sends the dessert to Rusty and throws the rest out.
In a recurring nightmare of his, Danny is looking into a mirror.
But instead of his reflection, he sees Adam Simmons fidget nervously with his tie as he sits in the back of a courtroom.
Beside him, Tess is crying.
Rusty turns to look at him from the stand, the prosecutor jabbing a condemning finger at him face; his eyes are blank and distant as they connect with his. Who are you? They ask him.
Turning to him, Tess says, " Oh Daniel, aren't you relieved? That could've been you."
(Don't call him that, please.)
As they drag an unwilling Rusty from the courtroom, the words echo in his head.
("…relieved… could've been you… Daniel, aren't you…")
In a fit of morbid curiosity, he looks up Adam Simmons online.
He used to have brown hair and a wonderful smile.
Picnicking with his favorite person in the world, Tess, feeding her strawberry cheesecake on a warm spring Sunday afternoon is certainly not one of the least enjoyable experiences of his life.
But only just. Danny is in hell.
Or going to it.
(He hasn't decided yet; this is supposed to be heaven but if that's true he'll take his chances.)
He wants this to work out so badly. More then possibly anything in his life. He wants to want this. This suburban husband and wife nightma—dream.
But over his wife's shoulder he can see the delivery truck waiting serenely (mockingly) outside of the town hall. Important goods, historic documents and museum pieces to be displayed there during the coming weekend for the town fair.
And it's right there.
The driver has run real quick to the bathroom, the mayor's people are currently involved in a mini-crisis over where to locate the new Ferris Wheel and even the camera doesn't completely cover the passenger seat angle.
It would be so easy.
His fingers twitch at the thought. He can almost feel the hard plastic of the steering wheel under his hands. His breath hitches at the sight of the open road in front of them.
He turns to ask Rusty what—
"Are you listening to me at all?" Tess snapped, annoyance clear in her voice.
Danny blinks twice, image evaporating. With a sigh, he turns back to his favorite person in the world.
The phone rings.
"Tess! Phone's ringing," he yells, eyes not flickering away from the screen for a second.
"Well then, why don't you answer it, dearest husband of mine," She answers from behind him, teeth clenched. He is vaguely surprised at the iciness of her tone but pauses, fast-forwards.
He's gotten good at that, not caring about the little (big) things.
Tomorrow means eight hours of his five by five office cubicle. His own personal four walled, coffee stained hell. Sunday is spent on the couch watching re-runs. Sometimes, it's spent watching a blank screen just trying not to think (realize).
"It's probably for you," he says evenly. It's never for him, not anymore (but he's fine with that now, it just takes getting used to).
He can almost hear her grinding her teeth together in frustration. He opens his mouth to apologize but stops. Shuts it again.
An apology means he's doing something wrong. And he's not.
Everything is perfectly okay.
In the background the phone stops ringing. He wishes it would start again.
The man's wallet is right there.
Half-falling out of his back pocket, is a worn brown leather of low quality. Nothing worth stealing. But when had that ever been the point?
He tentatively reaches for it, years of experience (days and seconds, endless ones) gone in a heartbeat because his hand is shaking and he's blatantly staring at the thing despite the fact the mark could easily glance around and catch him in the act.
The mark. The words melt like sugar on his tongue.
His fingers brush the top of wallet, closing around it. It feels warm to the touch.
He is about to softly pull away when a passing light glints off his wedding ring, bouncing back a shattered reflection of himself.
And, fuck, he can't do this anymore. He just can't.
Later, he realizes he doesn't know what he means.
(Can't con or can't pretend he doesn't want to?)
Their first fight, their first real honest-to-god fight, ends in tears and salty kisses.
It's stupid really but somehow it seems like one sacrifice too many to make.
Their sheets are pink.
Fashionably, subtle salmon-pink. But pink.
He turns on her and everything that's gone so wrong between them, everything that doesn't fit and chafes at the skin until it's rubbed red and raw, it comes spilling out, vicious and cold and aimed to hurt.
"Pink?" Danny laughs, short and humorless.
"Finally lost your mind, huh? Do I look like a fucking queer?"
And worse, the words leave a bitter taste in his mouth because they're not the words he wants to say. They're words, insults that Daniel Wasser would use. That an angry, unhappy middle-class businessman would use.
And that scares him most of all.
He is Danny Ocean.
Danny not Daniel.
He wouldn't ever be caught dead doing an honest days work. He would rather throw himself out the window then spent a minute more then necessary in his office prison. He doesn't say 'queer' like that's wrong and 'pink' like that's worse.
And he doesn't ever, ever make Tess cry.
So he kisses the tears away like it will make everything better and for tonight it's enough.
He wakes up in the morning, her curled in his arms, and decides that this part of his life is over.
(The working part.)
The cruise ship is beautiful, romantic and has that sense of d'élégance royale that Tess so loves.
The sea air and horrible "Mr. & Mrs. Ocean" jokes heal them, their relationship and they leave just as in love as when they first met. As in love as they were at their one-year anniversary or drunk on too much red-wine.
As much as they always are when it's just them with no work, no responsibilities and no clashing realities of domestic happiness.
(It's not the small things.)
It's just that sometimes, early in the morning, he can still taste the sparkles and the dark chocolate truffles. This isn't his first cruise. Tess though, is a half glass of champagne and apple-coconut shampoo.
She smiles at him softly and he likes the way their rings clink together when they hold hands.
Things are better, much better.
Danny calls in sick again and Tess is surprisingly fine with that. Their sheets are Palatinate Blue and he's stopped wanting to con everyone in sight.
(One lie in there. Can you guess which?)
During the day his life is on the straight and narrow.
Wife. House. Job. Car—remember?
During the day, he cooks for Tess when she comes home from her new work at the art gallery with a warm bubble bath lying in wait; the one that smells like vanilla. He hates the smell of vanilla.
During the day, he tries to do something constructive with his time.
Last week, on a whim, he applied to be a hotel inspector; the company's meeting with him next month. Maybe he can quit his job for good. So it's not like he's lazing about. He's re-watched all the Cary Grant classics for the fourth time.
(He wants to fucking scream.)
Last night, he had this dream. A happy one that he can't remember the details of.
But then again, he's never been one for details. Danny is about the idea; he draws his blueprints in watercolors that smear and blur because it's the colors that matter to him, and the way the white sheets fit the arching curves.
The rest is supposed to just fall into place, because he wants it, needs it too.
(Because Rusty makes it.)
Wife. House. Job. Car.
There's no room for a best friend in that equation. No room for his shaking fingers and the way he waits desperately for Tess to come home, only to avoid her when she is. The equation for happiness, for the American dream, it fits him like a choke collar.
Danny runs a finger along the map.
Traces a path in between colored push pins with a steady finger, weaving back and forth as he goes from Europe to Tokyo, Japan. Knowing Rusty (he does, he really does) he probably just stopped by to get some sushi.
He tries to remember the last time he followed a whim, did something just because he could, just because he wanted to.
And yeah, he stops trying.
Danny presses his hand flat against the map in the only space that's big enough.
(Cincinnati, Ohio. Yeah.)
Tess travels overseas for a while, something to do with her newest gallery pieces.
Danny orders the cab and books the flight; he even helps her pack up all her things. He plays the supportive husband role to perfection.
Really, he's got it all wrong; he should've been an actor, hands down.
Her fingers close around the doorknob, goodbye smile in place. Pinning her roughly to the wall, he kisses her with white-hot desperation (don't leave). When he pulls back, she looks at him with dawning understanding, like a sun peaking out behind clouds.
"Stay," he says, "Tess, I don't think I can—"
She hugs him. She smells like apples and coconuts and vanilla. He presses his face into her hair and inhales, imprinting the smell into his memory.
"You'll be fine, Danny. It'll all work out, you'll see. It's only a week."
With one last gentle kiss to his forehead, she leaves.
The first thing he does is call in sick (his last day). Then he calls Rusty.
He just says one thing: Please.
Danny sits in front of a blank TV and counts the hours.
When the doorbell rings, he jumps, not because of the noise but because it's ringing in the first place. Opening the door, he tells Rusty that there's no need to-
A confused mailman hands him a package addressed to Tess.
Back in the living room, he stares curiously, wondering whom it's from. The return address is international, one he recognizes: a well-known museum. His fingers itch to find out what's inside.
Important gallery stuff, most likely.
(Things he has absolutely no business messing with.)
He sets it down gingerly and goes back to counting.
Rusty finds him like that.
Resolutely staring at the screen, eyes never once straying anywhere they shouldn't. He wishes he could say the same for his thoughts.
(Said through a mouthful of green cotton candy. He won't ask. He won't.)
"It's the color of new life."
Rusty swings himself over the side of the couch, settling down next to him. Always a little too close, but that's what he needs right now.
They sit in silence and watch the blank TV. Slowly, inch-by-inch, Danny relaxes, his hands unclench and somehow, without him (really) noticing, Rusty's arm has found its way around his shoulders. Always a little too close.
Lately, Danny has learned a lot about what he really needs.
Rusty takes him out for dinner. Well, Rusty buys Danny food and eats most of it and Danny is left with a guilty feeling in the pit of his stomach because somewhere along the way he stopped ordering extra-large.
As he pours out everything that's been happening the last couple of weeks, Danny distantly thinks Rusty has got it all wrong too. He should've have been a shrink.
Then he watches him con their way out of paying the bill and knows that out of the two of them, Rusty is the one who has it completely right.
"And tomorrow it starts all over again." He finishes miserably and finds himself fighting back tears.
Rusty, thank god, pretends not to notice. Instead he waits patiently on Danny's front step, looking ridiculously out of place here in this everyday suburban neighborhood, biting into a candy apple.
Danny's not completely sure where they found that, actually. Poison green and dripping liquid sugar.
Rusty doesn't belong here, in this flat place.
(And yes, he knows what he's implying by that.)
Rubbing at his eyes, he snaps, "Because I've used up all my sick days, okay?"
Rusty just looks at him.
Danny avoids his eyes, opting instead to fumble in his bag for the key. Yes, he has a key now. He opens his mouth to—then closes it again. He should just leave it at that; enough damage has been done tonight.
The key, the complaining, the offering to actually pay for the food. Does Rusty recognize him at all in there? In this second skin he's created that fits so badly?
(It's too tight, he can't breathe in it.)
He shouldn't say anything but he does.
"It's in my contract. I only have a certain amount of sick days and they're all used up now. My boss was very specific about that."
He can see Rusty flinch at the words. Contract. Boss.
For the second time in the last forty-two hours he's being held, tight and close. Always a little too close. But Rusty is exactly what he needs right now.
Danny rests his head on Rusty's shoulder and exhales sharply, shaky sob pressed against the tanned skin (and he should ask about that, but doesn't trust himself not to get involved) of Rusty's neck.
"Danny," Rusty's voice is unreadable.
He draws back, confused.
But Rusty's eyes are warm and his favorite shade of blue. They tell Danny that he's an idiot.
Of course, Rusty will always recognize him, even if Danny doesn't himself. But underneath the love and exasperated affection there is real concern for his sanity. Rusty knows Danny better then anyone in the world and even he hadn't expected Danny to last this long.
Danny skips over that part, fast-forwards.
Rusty nods and doesn't comment. They don't have to say it out loud; the fact that he's here is enough.
(It won't be long now.)
"Got any chocolate around?"
Their goodbye is brief. Rusty hugs him again and Danny finds his hands curled into the fists, twisted into the familiar texture of silk.
He doesn't have words for what it smells like.
Rusty tries to pull away but Danny doesn't let go just yet. Because he needs this, always too close, right?
When Danny finally lets go, Rusty gives him a small smile edged with sadness. But his eyes are blank.
Danny thinks about it all the way back.
He comes home too late and more then a little drunk.
The house is the only one on the block completely lit up.
Tess is rearranging. Hands smeared with paint, hair in disarray and nose scrunched the way it always is when she's trying hard to understand something.
Another time, another place he would've-
But this is here; this is now.
"It just doesn't work," She whispers looking at the lime green walls but he knows. Yeah, it doesn't. It isn't. Will it ever?
Danny says nothing.
The phone is ringing. Again.
Tess isn't home yet and the ringing is shrill and cuts right through the movie; Danny lets out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. He's seen the movie a hundred times, maybe less, probably more.
And still, the ending always gets him.
The phone rings, completely disregarding Ingrid's tearful, heartbreaking farewell.
For some reason he picks up. Fate guiding his hand? As if he needs the help; there is only one way this could end.
And in the background two friends walk off into the fog. Fog that's tinged his favorite shade of blue.