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Dwayne can't sleep.
It's almost three in the morning and still he is lying on his small bed, thinking about the cot that stands maybe three feet away. It is the cot that Frank occupies when he sleeps over, his best friend Frank, whom he's closer to than anyone else he knows. The cot’s empty.
The thing is, Dwayne has gotten so used to listening to Frank's breathing at night that it’s now impossible to drift off without it.
He clenches his fists and lets his breath hiss from between his teeth. His hair falls out of his face, and he closes his eyes and breathes. He should be able to sleep. He's alright with solitude.
Except there's a difference between solitude and lying awake because you need to listen to your best friend's steady respiration as he sleeps.
This bothers him.
He counts his breaths since he can't count Frank's, and he lies in the dark for what might be minutes, might be hours, and might even be all night for what it seems. He rolls on his side. When he can’t get to sleep, he opens his eyes to see Frank sitting on the cot and massaging his eyes with his fingertips. He looks almost comically rumpled in his white cotton pajama top.
"Frank?" says Dwayne. His voice is hoarse with sleepiness.
"Dwayne," Frank answers, and his hands fall from his face to his lap. His eyes are large and sleepless, but filled with usual good humor all the same. Dwayne is stricken again by his rumpledness, and he thinks amusedly that Frank looks like a puppy when he's tired.
"Where you been?"
"Out sitting on the porch. You're too quiet when you sleep." he says seriously, and Dwayne smiles.
They fall into a comfortable silence, and Frank checks his alarm clock and shuts it off. He sits again on the edge of Dwayne's single bed this time. Dwayne feels a strong hand on his shoulder. He's not uneasy or bothered now that Frank's here, but he thinks he can go to sleep now. He nestles into his pillow and looks at Frank, and Frank looks back.
Dwayne thinks how much he loves him. By day he hides it away, but at night it doesn't seem so bad. It seems like love, and that's all. No big deal. No big deal at all, it's just in the way that Frank looks back at him sometimes. The way being around him meant feeling safe, the way that Frank wasn't the fragile piece of work that people seemed to think sometimes.
"You okay?" Frank asks him, and he realizes that Frank must have caught a little of it. It was in his face, maybe. Dwayne thought he was okay at hiding things, he had to be. But when it's four in the morning, you haven't slept at all and the fingers tapping across your shoulder belong to the person you’re never supposed to love—you might let your guard down a little.
He doesn't answer, and Frank doesn't press it. Dwayne is grateful for that. Frank is cool about things, like when they were twelve, Dwayne decided that he was going to write a book on governmental conspiracies someday. All Frank had to say was Far out. Open-minded, he guesses you could call Frank.
Open-minded—, he realizes, and he hitches his breath a little.
Frank stops the motion of his hand, but lets it rest still on Dwayne’s shoulder. “You really okay?” He looks concerned now, and he turns slightly so that they can see each other’s faces properly. No use pretending it’s all good now. It’s either the truth or part of it, but he still isn’t sure which is going to come out.
Dwayne braces himself and plunges into the first question, the easy one.
“How did you find out you were… you were gay?” he says rapidly, spitting it out hard.
Frank seems taken aback, and he’s quiet for a little while. “It’s not really a deep discovery or anything. It’s there, that’s all.”
Dwayne reaches clumsily for Frank’s hand, and Frank’s thumb is gently tracing the veins in Dwayne’s hand. It’s almost too much. Dwayne squeezes Frank’s hand and says nothing. He guesses that Frank has deduced enough without words, and he’s not wrong.
“It’s okay,” Frank says quietly, “it’s not the end of the world. Don’t be scared.”
“Nothing is okay,” says Dwayne. His voice is husky and rough.
“Sure it is. Or it will be.”
There is silence again, and Dwayne is acutely aware when Frank wraps his other arm around his waist and hugs him tight for a second. Then he releases him. “Is there someone?”
Dwayne averts his eyes now. He nods slowly, feeling like his head is waterlogged, it’s so heavy.
“Are they…?” Frank asks.
“Yeah.” He has to blink a few times. Is he going to cry in front of Frank? It wouldn’t be the first time, but he doesn’t want to cry now. “Yeah… but it doesn’t matter anyway.”
Dwayne chuckles, but it is completely without laughter. “You probably don’t want to know.”
Frank says nothing but waits. He isn’t holding Dwayne’s hand anymore. That makes it a little better.
“We’re already pretty close,” Dwayne says finally, and he looks at the wall steadfastly. No going back. Not ever, not now.
Frank tenses suddenly. Dwayne feels his body stiffen where they are touching, and he is not surprised, but resigned.
“Pretty close… like best-friends close.” Frank says, and it’s not a question but a statement.
Dwayne sits up, careful not to touch Frank, and moves to stand but Frank stops him.
Dwayne submits, but he will not meet Frank’s eyes, and he inhales sharply when Frank throws caution to the winds and wraps an arm around Dwayne.
Dwayne is shaking. They have been this close many times, but there’s something different now, a new dynamic, and Dwayne sobs a little, angry and harsh toward whatever entity has taken the liberty to mess up lives, mess up friends, and mess up people this way.
“Hey, I told you it was going to be okay, didn’t I?” Frank tentatively begins stroking and exploring the smooth white skin of Dwayne’s unmarred wrist with his unsteady fingers.
“I know, but it’s not,” Dwayne wants to scream this, scream it at the top of his voice, but there couldn’t possibly be a worse situation to wake the rest of his family over. “It’s not okay, it’s wrong, I don’t know why I even told you…” his voice cracks and his eyes are hot and threatening to spill over.
He reaches up to wipe the tears away, but Frank gets there first and strokes them away with his fingertips. He leans over and gives Dwayne a soft kiss on the cheek. Dwayne feels warm lips and peach-fuzz stubble brush his face, and he wonders what Frank is thinking.
“It’s okay,” Frank repeats. “It’s gonna be okay, just believe me, please… please…”
And Dwayne lets himself be pulled into Frank’s arms, and Frank holds him and repeats this mantra—it’s okay—that Dwayne can't take faith in. The harsh sobs slowly taper off over time as the dark clouds become pink sunrise.
When the light spills into their room Dwayne is still in Frank’s arms, his eyes tired and red; Frank is stroking his hair. By the time Dwayne’s family slowly stirs awake and begins rustling around, Frank and Dwayne have fallen asleep this way, dreaming unsettled dreams and letting themselves be comforted anyway.
For now, it’s okay.