by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
illustrated by serenity_winner
Daniel paused a few steps away from the checkout counter and grimaced. God damn it, for how much of a burnout Eddie clearly was, he took an impressive assortment of shifts. This was what he got for not going to the “good” 7-Eleven. Daniel shook his head at himself and raised his eyes to heaven for strength so he could just get this over with.
He put his two six-packs of Sam Adams up on the counter and pulled out his wallet without making eye contact. He could still feel it, the slow, stoned pull of Eddie’s gaze as it went from the beer to his face. Just hearing him start to smile made him want to punch him in the face.
“Oh, hey, Harold!” Eddie said. “Where’s Kumar?”
Daniel gritted his teeth. “Fucking your mother,” he said, and Eddie just let out a laugh like a baked donkey.
“Whoa, no need to get personal, dude, I’m just messing with you,” Eddie said. “I’m gonna need to see your ID, though.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Seriously?”
“Sorry, man, it’s the law,” Eddie said, but funny how he only got to be a real stickler about the law when Daniel was shopping. He handed Eddie his driver’s license and kept his face blank while Eddie looked it over from every angle, holding it up to the light. He handed it back to him with a big, red-eyed smile. “Thank you, Daniel-san.”
“Sun,” Daniel muttered under his breath as Eddie finally started checking him out. He pulled his credit card — not the debit card right now, it was feeling a little too hot to risk it — and swiped to pay for the beer. As they went through their little dance of pressing buttons on their respective screens and keypads, Daniel focused in on the nametag hanging on Eddie’s uniform shirt pocket.
“‘Weddie?'” he said, making regretful eye contact with him. Eddie looked down in seeming slow motion at his name tag, and then laughed.
“No, no, get it? Weeddie,” he said, and looked proud. He had scrawled a ‘WE’ next to his actual name.
“That’s not how that would be pronounced,” Daniel said. “And if you say it ‘Weeddie’ it doesn’t rhyme with your name. You’d be better off having it say ‘Edweed‘ or something.”
“Pssh,” Eddie said. “Only my mom calls me Edward.”
“Edweed,” Daniel said. Eddie looked at him for a long time and then handed Daniel his receipt and shopping bags full of beer.
“Whatever,” he said. “Say hi to Kumar for me.”
Daniel picked up his bags and turned to the door. “Blow me,” he said, but only after the automatic doors had closed behind him.
Daniel walked into his apartment to find Ghazi not fucking anyone’s mother at all, but rather right where he left him, lying on the couch with a laptop resting on his chest almost directly under his chin. He was clicking mildly now and then with taps of his finger, so it was always possible he was playing a Facebook mother-fucking game. Anything to kill the time.
“Yo,” he said, and Ghazi looked up to him. He held up the 7-Eleven bags. “I got stuff.”
“Yaaaay,” he said, in a gentle monotone. “I ordered food.”
Daniel gave a little grunt of assent and went to put the beer in the fridge. “The shitty Chinese place with the good egg rolls?”
“They weren’t picking up the phone,” Ghazi said. “So the shitty Chinese place with the good vegetable dumplings.” Ghazi didn’t do pork but did do beer, because they were adults who made their own choices in life. Daniel opened two bottles and handed one to Ghazi before knocking his feet off the couch to sit down. “Got you the usual.” You could fuck up fried rice, but you had to try pretty hard.
Daniel took a drink and stared at the dark screen of the TV whose purchase he could feel ticking up interest on his credit card every second. “Maybe we should write a stoner comedy,” he said.
Ghazi looked at him from over the top of his laptop. “So many reasons why not.”
“A stoner comedy where the stoners are assholes who get their comeuppance,” Daniel said.
“Did you run into Nancy Reagan while you were getting beer?” Ghazi attempted to drink beer while still lying down, dribbled some of it along his cheek, and then made an awkward shuffle of sitting up while dropping neither bottle nor laptop on the floor.
“No,” Daniel said, and dropped his head on the back of the couch. “That could be a sketch or something, though. Nancy Reagan punching McLovin, I don’t know.
“Ugh,” Ghazi said. “First off, that’s a terrible idea. Second, we’re not doing any more YouTube shit.” He drank his beer and dug through the couch cushions for the TV remote. “I don’t understand how it’s even technologically possible to get more racist comments than actual hits.”
“Conspiracy,” Daniel said. “Google conspiracy.” He did not suggest that as a script idea, though, just closed his eyes as Ghazi turned on the TV and started flipping. It’d been years since they’d done any videos, anyway. They’d met in a sketch comedy group in college (name: The New Andys; members: no one named Andy) and, like so many before them, moved out to L.A. to try to make it big, or at least medium. Ghazi’d done stand-up, they’d made a handful of videos, written screenplays and sitcom spec scripts. It was all going just great, which was why Daniel spent most his time doing shitty office temp jobs and Ghazi got jobs off of craigslist editing people’s weird erotic cat-sex novels and broken English scripts full of nothing but high-speed car racing and dancing in discos.
Ghazi had the TV’s sound down, but the colors coming through Daniel’s eyelids showed him he still hadn’t settled on something to stare at. “No one wants a script for a comedy film anymore, anyway,” he said. “They want to point a camera at three old Saturday Night Live people and let it them improvise bullshit until the batteries die.”
Daniel opened his eyes, only to narrow them. “Improv,” he muttered through gritted teeth.
“Fucking improv,” Ghazi said, and extended his beer bottle for a clink. The New Andys had had an intense rivalry with the school’s improv group, Benny’s Fishing Society, who’d had their own fucked-up beef with Hard n’ Fermata, the acapella group. Daniel was glad to be done with college.
“We just need to sell out,” Daniel said.
“Isn’t that what we’ve been trying to do?” Ghazi said. “I mean, we did romantic comedy.” Boy and girl work in the same office, don’t know that they’re twitter enemies. No responses. “We did that, that… Blart thing.” Ghazi’s accent made it sound like even more of a disgusting bodily onomatopoeia. Their stupid hero had been named Sneef and he’d been a bumbling Amazon employee, which had been simultaneously too vaginal and too corporate-critical to ever sell.
“We need to find a better way to sell out,” Daniel said. Ghazi had stopped flipping to take a drink, and the TV was showing something very soft-tinged, with Miley Cyrus on a beach with sea turtles. This was not a documentary, Daniel quickly ascertained. He knew this framing. “Holy shit, Gaz.”
“What?” Ghazi said, though he was staring at the screen and Daniel could see the bricks were connecting to make a Lego palace built on their filthy, sell-out lucre. “Oh, shit. What?”
“You know how we could sell out?” Daniel said, and pointed his beer bottle at the screen.
“Are we going to Sparks it?” Ghazi said.
“We are going to motherfucking Nicholas Sparks it,” Daniel said. They clinked their beer bottles together again, this time in triumph, and then both jumped like startled babies at the sound of a knock on the door that meant their shitty Chinese food had arrived.
Some shitty eggrolls, decent fried rice, and good vegetable dumplings later, Daniel and Ghazi were on a path of serious devotion to research. They watched the end of the Miley Cyrus thing while stuffing food in their faces, and then it was straight to all varieties of streaming video and dirty, dirty torrents to get more.
“We could just read a blog or watch a supercut or something,” Daniel said.
“No, if we’re going to do this, we can’t cut corners,” Ghazi said. He’d selected the one with Channing Tatum. Or was it Liam Hemsworth? Not to be racist or anything, but Daniel couldn’t really tell the difference between all the square-jawed white dudes in Hollywood. That was what people paid to see, though.
Daniel had his own computer on his lap now. “So, it’s going to need the most meaningless cliche title ever. Another Beach or Last Autumn or Yesterday’s Tomorrows.”
“Oh, Last Autumn, that’s a good one,” Ghazi said. “You know someone is going to die.”
“Someone is definitely dying no matter what,” Daniel said. “I may not know much about this garbage, but I know that.” Daniel typed the word DEATH into the blank document on his computer. That was a good start to creatively bankrupting himself, he thought.
“I don’t think you’re going into this with the right attitude,” Ghazi said, looking at him askance. “Audiences can smell cynicism, you know.”
“No, they can’t,” Daniel said. “They smell eight-dollar popcorn, and studios smell money.”
“Oh, baby,” Ghazi said. “Did Nicholas Sparks hurt you?”
“No, I just…” Daniel sighed and put his beer bottle to his forehead. He needed another one. He put it down and replaced it with the back of his hand as he let out a far more dramatic sigh. “You just don’t understand my tortured artist heart, Gaz.”
“Pobrecita,” Ghazi said. He’d been learning Spanish from the guys at the good taqueria. Well, he’d been learning how to insult people in Spanish, mostly, because he was willing to milk the comedic effect of a guy from Pakistan shouting ¡Chinga tu madre, cabrón! at someone. Daniel’d have to see how that one worked on Edweed sometime.
Daniel wrote TORTURED ARTIST on his computer and then turned the screen to Ghazi, who gave him a thumbs up.
“It should be the girl who’s the tortured artist,” Daniel said, typing a few more notes. “That’ll subvert the cliche, and, you know, feminism and stuff.”
“Ah!” Ghazi reached his hand over to snap his fingers near Daniel’s ear. “No! No, no subversion, no feminism. You are doing this wrong!” He pointed at the screen, which had a beach on it. “Pay attention!”
Daniel narrowed his eyes at Ghazi and then wrote down BEACH – SEA LIONS?? He then erased that and wrote down BABY SEALS! instead. Tortured artists had to pay the bills, man.
“He’s really an underrated performer,” Daniel found himself saying. He’d set his computer aside some time ago, and now a small army of empty beer bottles was on the table.
Ghazi glanced over to him, and then back at the screen. “Zac Efron?”
Daniel shrugged one shoulder. “Yeah,” he said. “He’s got depth. Really multi-talented. Triple threat.”
Ghazi squinted one eye while he looked at him. “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”
“I’m not!” Daniel said. “Look, my little sister was completely obsessed with High School Musical forever, so I’ve seen them all about a million times.”
“So many years into our friendship and I’m still learning things,” Ghazi said.
“We have to keep the magic alive somehow, sweetheart,” Daniel said. He gestured to the screen, where Zac Efron and his cartoon baby deer eyelashes were staring thoughtfully through dappled sunlight. “I mean, okay, this is not good. He’s not doing good things here. But with Troy Bolton, you really…” He brought his knuckle to his mouth to bite it dramatically for a second. “You really believe.”
“I believe when he takes his shirt off women buy movie tickets,” Ghazi said.
Daniel pointed to Ghazi. “Accurate,” he said. “I’ll put him on the dream cast list.” Right now that list was written down on the back of a Thai restaurant menu and included: that guy from Twilight (no need to be specific there), Paul Newman (alive version), and a crossed out James Franco with TOO WEIRD written next to it in Ghazi’s handwriting.
They watched the movie (which involved having to believe young Mr. Efron as the world’s most beautiful marine) in silence for a while, until Ghazi let out an irritated sigh. “I don’t think he’s going to sing or dance in this,” he said.
“I don’t, either,” Daniel said.
“God damn it,” Ghazi said.
“I know!” Daniel said, but then Zac Efron took off his shirt, so that was something.
Daniel’s justification for not going back to the “good” 7-Eleven this time was that he had beer in his body, liked being alive and unarrested, and it was closer. He had an important mission and it was worth the irritation.
“Whoa,” Eddie said, still behind the counter, how the hell long shifts did this dude take. “Having a rough time on your period there, bro?”
Daniel looked down to the pints of Ben & Jerry’s on the counter. He and Ghazi had decided that if they were doing this, they were doing this. Also, ice cream is delicious. Daniel looked straight into Eddie’s eyes and kept his face made out of stone. “Yes,” he said. “I am.”
He also straight-up flipped him the bird without looking back on the way out. That felt good, too.
When empty ice-cream cartons had joined the beer bottles and they were near the end of A Walk to Remember, Daniel heard a little sniff from the other end of the couch. And then another one. He looked over at Ghazi without turning his head.
“Are you crying?” he said.
“No,” Ghazi said. “You’re crying.”
Daniel looked at Ghazi, who had very tightly pursed his lips together, and then to Mandy Moore, who was doing a very good job of dying of cancer on their television. Daniel stood up, went to his bedroom, and retrieved the box of tissues from his bedside table. He sat back down on the couch and placed the box between them.
“We are both fucking crying,” he said with utmost determination, and then allowed himself to feel sincere emotion. It was important to do that kind of crap sometimes for your art.
Ghazi blew his nose as the credits rolled. “So, we can’t use cancer,” he said.
“No, it’s too easy,” Daniel said, his voice still rough and wavery. “Everyone uses cancer.”
“Well, everyone gets cancer, so that makes sense,” Ghazi said. The pile of tissues on the floor between them looked like the end result of a very epic masturbation contest. “How are we going to make people sad?”
Daniel closed his eyes for a moment, both to think and to relieve the way they were stinging. “Widower,” he said. “A widower and a widow. And then after they fall in love they both start dying of the same things that killed their first spouses.”
Ghazi bit his lip as he looked at him, shaking his head slightly. “You are a beautiful monster.”
“I know!” Daniel said, throwing his arms into the air. “We’re going to be rich!”
It was getting late, they weren’t even drunk anymore, and they had a very healthy amount of notes full of ideas on how to best exploit people’s emotions in all of the cheapest ways. “Do we even need to watch The Notebook?” Ghazi said. “I mean, everyone has seen The Notebook.”
“I haven’t seen The Notebook,” Daniel said.
Ghazi looked at him with his brows furrowed in confusion and outrage. “You haven’t seen The Notebook?”
“I haven’t seen The Notebook!” he said. “Why have you seen The Notebook.”
Ghazi lifted up his hands in frustration. “Because I’ve had a fucking girlfriend ever, dude!” Neither of them had had girlfriends since they moved to L.A., but that was beside the point. “I can’t believe we’ve been watching these things all night and you haven’t even seen The Notebook! It’s the baseline! It’s the standard!”
“Okay!” Daniel held his hands up defensively. “Okay, we’ll watch The Notebook, Christ.”
“It’s the good one,” Ghazi muttered to himself as he went about setting up the movie.
“Is it?” Daniel said, and Ghazi just narrowed his eyes at him again. “Okay, okay, I believe you. Unknown passions, dude.”
It was still pretty stupid, Daniel thought, but god damn it if that Ryan Gosling wasn’t charming, especially in whatever Newsies outfit they had him in. “Ours has to be a period piece,” he said.
“Absolutely,” Ghazi said. “People eat up nostalgia with a spoon.”
“Make it like Mad Men only wholesome,” Daniel said.
“Brilliant,” Ghazi said, as Daniel pondered ex-Disney Channel starlets in retro cone bras.
Around the time Rachel McAdams was breaking Cyclops’ heart, Ghazi picked up the remote to turn the sound down, a concerned look on his face. “Do you hear that?” he said. “What is that?”
Daniel furrowed his brow and listened. There was some weird sound coming from outside, something familiar that he couldn’t quite remember. Then it clicked. “Holy shit, it’s raining.”
“It’s raining,” Ghazi said, and his eyes lit up as he gave Daniel a huge grin. “It’s raining in Los Angeles. This is a sign, dude.”
“This is a sign from the ghost of Nicholas Sparks!” Daniel said, and stood up.
“I don’t think he’s dead!” Ghazi said, and he was pausing the movie and getting up too. “But I don’t disagree with you!”
They were out the door together without any further discussion. It was just obvious. The rain was hardly a southern summer squall, but it was enough to get them both fairly wet as they stood in the parking lot of their shitty apartment, laughing and whooping enough to surely piss of their neighbors.
“I wrote you every day!” Daniel yelled at Ghazi through the rain.
“Whoa, whoa, wait,” Ghazi said, and the rain was starting to make his hair go into loose curls. “You don’t get to be Ryan Gosling.”
“No, shut up!” Daniel said. “Why would you get to be Ryan Gosling?”
“Are you kidding me?” Ghazi said, and gestured to his face. “Do you see these eyes? Do you see these sensitive, soulful, beautiful eyes? I am like a sexy puppy dog over here!”
“Okay,” Daniel said. “Okay, yeah, that’s a fair point. I guess you’re Ryan Gosling.” Daniel had always been the one who ended up in a wig and a dress back in The New Andys. He put a hand to his chest, closed his eyes and tilted his head back to feel the rain on his face, and then set to making a complete fool of himself.
“Why didn’t you write me?” he shouted at Ghazi through the rain as dramatically as he possibly could. “Why? It wasn’t over for me, I waited for you for seven years. But now it’s too late.” He remembered the lines because he’d written them down for the specific purpose of completely ripping them off later.
“I wrote you three-hundred and sixty-five letters,” Ghazi said, and oh yeah, those were some soulful-ass eyes. “I wrote you every day for a year.”
“You wrote me?” Daniel gasped.
“Yes,” Ghazi said, and stepped close to him. “It wasn’t over. It still isn’t over.” And then, as scripted, he grabbed Daniel and kissed him.
It was hardly the first time they’d kissed. You just didn’t spend years doing sketch comedy without kissing a few dudes. This was different, though. There was tongue, to start with, and not exaggerated, fairly gross outside-of-the-mouth tongue, this was Ghazi’s tongue in his mouth and his in Ghazi’s, the taste of rainwater on both their lips.
Ghazi pulled away first. He was breathing hard and his hair was dripping into his eyes. “Uh,” he said. He hadn’t let go of Daniel.
“Uh,” Daniel said in return. “So… yeah, that pretty much makes sense.”
“I think I have a deep understanding of the genre now,” Ghazi said. “We should probably go inside.”
“Yep,” Daniel said, and Ghazi wrapped his arms around his waist just as he leapt into them and kissed him hard. He got his legs around Ghazi’s waist and he managed to get halfway back to their apartment door before dropping him. Daniel mostly landed on his feet, at least.
“No, you are heavy,” he said, and rubbed the base of his back with his hand. “You walk the rest of the way.”
“I could try carrying you,” Daniel said, and the rain felt good sliding in the lines of his face when he smiled.
“No,” Ghazi said. “Absolutely not.” Once you decided you were the Gosling, you took that role seriously, it seemed. Daniel walked the remaining few steps to the apartment, they closed the door behind them and took off their wet shoes, and then Ghazi slammed him up against the wall to kiss him again.
Ghazi was really good at kissing, Daniel was surprised to find out. He had his hands tangled up through Daniel’s wet hair and dipped his head to lick a little rivulet of rain out from the dip underneath Daniel’s lip. Daniel grabbed at his shoulders, getting handfuls of wet fabric that peeled away from his skin. The fucker was even wearing white.
He pulled away and Daniel made a little whimpery noise that he was fairly certain he’d never made before. “Are we actually doing this?” Ghazi asked.
“We seem to be!” Daniel said. All evidence certainly pointed to it.
“I have a boner,” Ghazi said. “Do you have a boner?”
“I also have a boner,” Daniel said. God, did he have a boner. He had underestimated the transformative riling-up power of The Notebook; it clearly was a force that transcended what were previously pretty solid notions of sexual orientation and attraction.
“Okay, cool,” Ghazi said, and kissed him until he made that noise again before putting an arm around his waist and leading them both on a damp, staggering path to his bedroom.
Ghazi pushed him back onto his bed and peeled his shirt off, throwing it into a wet lump on the floor. “You’re way too hairy for a Sparks movie,” Daniel said, looking at how water had made the dark hair on his chest and stomach shape into whorls on his skin.
“I know, right?” Ghazi said as he knelt down on the bed between Daniel’s legs, which he had really eagerly parted the minute Ghazi started coming near. “It’s all very focus-tested,” he said as he pulled Daniel’s shirt off, taking a minute to kiss his damp collarbones and lick at the hollow of his throat. “Women like a man who is pretty.”
“But not too pretty,” Daniel said before biting his lip and grasping at the covers as Ghazi lightly bit one of his nipples. “Gotta have that little bit of scruff.” His hips jolted up against Ghazi’s belly as he felt Ghazi’s own scruffy chin tickling his skin as he kissed down Daniel’s abdomen.
Ghazi straightened up and unfastened Daniel’s pants, unzipping them to try to pull them down. At no time in history, however, had getting wet jeans off of someone been easy or sexy. “This would be a lot easier if you were wearing stockings,” Ghazi said after Daniel nearly kicked him in the face.
“Not since college, man,” Daniel said, and Ghazi bent back over him to kiss him again. This time, though, he fit his hand over Daniel’s cock, squeezing it through fabric that likely would have been wet even without the rain by this point. “Jesus, have you done this before?” He’d never given much attention to any details of Ghazi’s sex life until now. Now he was very interested in details.
“Nope,” Ghazi said, and then Daniel’s underwear had joined the rest of his clothes, making a wet slap as Ghazi threw them against the wall. “The power of love can guide us across any boundary.”
“Ugh,” Daniel said as he finished unfastening Ghazi’s pants and gotten a hand on his dick. “That is the worst tagline. Don’t forget it.” They’d seen each other naked before — again, sketch comedy, college, things happened — but never in any erect state. Ghazi’s dick was thick and hot in his hand, and now Daniel found himself thinking things about how it would taste all wet with rain like it was. So, that was a new thing for him. Nicholas Sparks had to be a witch.
Ghazi was naked and on top of him and his tongue was in his mouth and their dicks were touching. Daniel had to say, the whole experience was way, way, way better than he ever would have thought something like it would be. He wasn’t actually saying anything, though. He was making little noises, gasps and whispers and grunts as Ghazi rolled his hips, mostly rubbing his dick against Daniel’s belly, but letting it slide against Daniel’s own cock just enough to make him start to go insane.
He put one hand around the back of Ghazi’s neck to keep him kissing him and put the other between their bodies, wrapping his hand as much as he could around both of their cocks. Ghazi groaned into his mouth and let his hand meet Daniel’s. The way Ghazi was moving his hips while they jerked each other off together had some little sparks going off in the back of Daniel’s mind, ideas about maybe putting parts of himself inside Ghazi, or parts of Ghazi inside him. It was a night for a lot of creative ideas.
Daniel had his hand just around Ghazi’s cock when Ghazi laughed a little into his neck. “Hey,” he said, and his voice was low and rough. “Remember how she was wearing a pearl necklace in that sex scene?”
“Don’t you dare,” Daniel said through gritted teeth, although he just started jerking him faster. Ghazi’s laugh turned into a gasp and then a groan, and Daniel felt him come into his hand and against his belly.
Ghazi was heavy on top of him as he panted against his chest. Daniel rutted in frustration against Ghazi’s stomach, discovering then that his dick was pretty into the sensation of rubbing against manly, manly body hair. “Come on, man,” he said as he tugged a little at the damp, curling strands of Ghazi’s hair. “Don’t leave me hanging. Ryan Gosling would never leave someone hanging.”
Ghazi lifted up his head and smiled at him, those very, very soulful eyes soft and heavy. “Sorry, dude,” he said, and scooted down Daniel’s body to take the end of his cock in his mouth. Daniel was so surprised he really had no choice but to have an orgasm almost immediately.
Ghazi came up to collapse on the bed next to him, wiping his chin with his hand and his hand on the bedspread. He was still breathing hard and his skin was flushed dark. Sometimes you had to have your eyes opened to the beauty right in front of you.
That was awful. Daniel would have to put that one in the potential taglines file.
He reached over to put his fingers in Ghazi’s hair. “Should we finish watching the movie?” he asked.
“No,” Ghazi said. “The ending is sad and I haven’t cried after sex since I lost my virginity.”
Daniel leaned his head back and laughed, and Ghazi rolled on his side to nestle his face against Daniel’s shoulder. “Dude,” Daniel said as he twined his fingers with Ghazi’s where they rested on his stomach. “How about we write something where we Sparks it, gay-style?”
Ghazi made a thoughtful little hum against Daniel’s skin. “That’s even less likely to sell than anything else we’ve ever written.”
“So, not a mainstream thing,” Daniel said. “Indie. Niche markets, man, those things can totally kill.”
Ghazi was quiet for a while, just occasionally dropping kisses on Daniel’s skin where the rain and sweat had managed to dry. “We’ll cast Zac Efron as one of the leads.”
Daniel let out a bright belt of a laugh, and rolled over on top of Ghazi to start kissing him all over again.