"Yeah man, catch you later," I say, waving goodbye as the last of the film crew shuffles down the hall. I turn to the door of my room; the one Max and I are sharing. I stand there, key in hand, for several minutes, wondering at the best course of action.
I've always been good at comforting people. It's something I've always done, ever since I was a little kid. My brother Ariel is three years older than me but when we were growing up he'd get easily stressed and I was always there to comfort him, calm him down. This ability, this skill of comfort has come in handy during the filming of Catfish the TV Show (the reason for the insane hotel-hopping we've been doing for the last few months) as emotions tend to run high. But this ability seems useless now. Despite my years of experience and practice, I have no idea how to comfort Max.
Max is a cynical guy, there's no denying it. He's been that way as long as I've known him. He's cynical and pessimistic and guarded. He's always the first to reprimand the stupidity of the people we've helped through Catfish. He's the first to call someone a liar. Always assumes the worst. He'll say what he means and it'll be harsh. He doesn't accept excuses and platitudes and I admire that. I'm always soft-stepping around people's feelings. I've been too trusting my whole life which, as Max often points out, is probably how I got catfished online in the first place.
But he wasn't cynical this time! I bang my head softly against the door and lean more heavily against it. The hallway is quiet now; no sound other than my hushed breathing.
He wasn't pessimistic, he was hopeful. Legitimately, genuinely hopeful for the first time through all of this. I was beginning to think he didn't believe in the possibility of true love. But he's shown his hand now…
He was fascinated by the idea that the man we were helping, Anthony, could know the man he'd been talking to was lying to him and still love him. He was preoccupied by it. There would be a glint in his eyes when he talked about it, about this love that could exist even past dishonesty and trauma. He wanted to believe in it so badly, I could tell. Perhaps he related to it more because they were gay men, being gay himself. Perhaps that's why it got to him so much.
And honestly, I've never wanted a couple to work out more than I wanted this one. For Max. Because for the first time he was hopeful and I didn't want to see that hope crushed, the cynicism laid back over him. Perhaps that's why I'm still out here in the hallway.
I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment and take a deep breath before sliding the keycard into the door and swinging it open.
The sight almost breaks my heart. Max is sitting on his bed, the far-side, by the window, his head bowed and his hands lying listlessly in his lap. He doesn't move as I come in and I hesitantly walk over and take a seat beside him on the bed.
"Hey, Max," I mumble, just for something to say. He says nothing. We sit like this, in silence, him looking down at his hands and me looking at him for what feels like hours. "I'm sorry," I murmur eventually. He gives an almost imperceptible nod of his head. I gently scoot closer to him and hesitantly lay my arm over his shoulder, rubbing soothing circles on his back.
Max is warm, soft, in a way that I've never experienced another person being before. For such a jaded man he is very cuddly. A, dare I say it again, bunny rabbit.
In this moment, sitting here with him, his vulnerability blaringly apparent, I'm reminded of the finer points of Max. The little things. How he sings in the car. How he can sleep just about anywhere. How he always makes us late for our plane so we have to run, our shoes still off from going through the security checkpoint. The side-trips and little adventures while on the road. That time we were discussing a couple and he said "I'd want sex" and my heart about stopped. I hesitated a moment too long and he raised one bizarrely attractive eyebrow at me before I managed to stutter out a response. I look at his perfectly styled hair and think of what it looks like as he just wakes up in the morning. How his eyes don't fully open until his second cup of coffee. How he can find humor in anything.
I'm filled with a surge of affection for him that surpasses friendship. That's love. Even my miserably broken heart can recognize that. My mind is suddenly clear for the first time in ages and I know exactly what I want. Exactly what I'm going to do next.
"Max…" my voice is raspy and the change makes him look up at me. I softly cup his cheek with one hand and his eyebrows knit together in confusion. But he doesn't say anything and neither do I, I just leave my hand there, feeling his impossibly soft skin. After a few seconds he leans into my touch.
"Max," I say again as I lean in, my voice suddenly much too low. His eyes are wide and he sits motionless as I come closer and closer until I can feel his breath on my face. I stay that way, nearer to him than I've ever been, watching his eyes dart between my own eyes and my lips.
And then, slowly, cautiously, I close the small gap between us, pressing my lips to his. He responds immediately, melting into the kiss, my arm still around his back coming to encircle him more completely. The kiss is warm and soft, testing. We part and look into each other's eyes. And then he leans back in, our lips meeting again as his hands come up to rest on my hips.
The next kiss is not soft at all. It's hot and needy, frantic. I lick his lower lip and he opens his mouth for me, each of us exploring the other. He tastes of mint and coffee and another taste that's just distinctly Max and I'm instantly hooked.
When we finally break away to breathe his face is flushed and his lips are swollen.
"I'm sorry about Anthony," I tell him, quietly.
"Nev," he whispers, his voice crackly from disuse. And that's all it takes, that one word. He says it almost reverently, like a prayer, and even though I've heard him say my name thousands of times, this time it's sensual and I pull his lips to mine by the back of his neck.
We spend the rest of the evening getting to know each other all over again.
Tomorrow I'll probably have some sort of sexual identity crisis. But it can wait. Tonight it's just me and Max and, if I have any say, that's how it'll always be.
Who knows, maybe there is love that can conquer anything.