Thanks: Many many fulsome and grateful thanks to aerye for her inspiring beta ways. Dialogue by Eleanor Bergstein, more or less. Title from Cry to Me by Solomon Burke.
Notes: For the Dirty challenge on ds_flashfiction
Ray stripped off his sweat-damp shirt and flung it onto the chair, but it didn't make much difference. Well past midnight, and the air was still thick against his bare skin. Christ, these Kellerman's summers were killing him. He rolled his right shoulder, tiredly, and went over to flick through his record collection. Music was a habit, like dancing or breathing. Like his heartbeat. Every second without rhythm or tune was wasted. He needed it, like it was a way to release some of his frustration into the world without ripping himself open and letting his guts spill bleeding out onto the floor.
He lowered the needle onto a 45, and watched the shiny black vinyl spin as Otis' voice melted out of the speakers: These arms of mine, they are lonely. Lonely and feeling blue…
A sharp knock at the door broke the spell, and he hurried to answer it, hoping to God it wasn't more bad news about Stella. They'd been friends so long, she was family. He didn't know what he'd do if anything happened to her.
It was Benton, young and nervous-looking, but not with any sense of urgency about him. He was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt that fit neatly across his broad teenage shoulders. He should've been the perfect picture of an All-Canadian Boy, but there were still faint traces of eyeliner around his eyes, which made him seem other-worldly and queer. "May I come in?"
Ray studied him a moment, deciding. He could say "No". He could make some excuse, and back out of this, like he should. Like Max would want him to. Make some flattering remark so no one's feelings got hurt, and push the kid out the door, down the steps, back to his daddy. He took a breath, meaning to do just that, but at the movement Benton's gaze flicked down to Ray's lips, lingered there a second, then dropped sideways to the doorframe, so that his lashes cast long shadows down his cheeks. Ray found himself shrugging, and stood back to let Benton enter, aware of the smell of expensive soap as Benton brushed past.
Benton looked around curiously, his gaze pausing on the stack of records, the jumble of clothes and scuffed shoes by the bed, the Japanese lantern. Ray watched him, then scanned the room, too, seeing it through Benton's eyes. This here was his whole life, exposed to view. Ratty and cheap and weird. Most of the time Ray didn't notice how rundown his stuff was—only the record player really mattered—but the kid was wide-eyed and clean-cut and innocent, and Ray wanted to impress him. "I don't—I guess it's not a great room," he couldn't help saying. "You probably got a great room."
A small crease cut across Benton's forehead. "It's a fine room, Ray." He sounded like he meant it.
Ray hastily grabbed the clothes off the chair, and waved Benton into it. It was too weird, having the kid just stand there. He wished he could put a shirt on, but figured that would just draw attention to the fact he wasn't wearing one. He'd just have to—what was the word?—brazen it out. He could do that.
Benton sat down politely, and Ray went to switch off the music.
"No, leave it on," said Benton, and Ray had to grit his teeth to keep from thinking things that you did not think about boys. Especially not boys who were guests.
He turned and leaned against the sideboard, shoving his fists deep into his pockets, and waited.
Ben's face was pale in the dim light. He rubbed his eyebrow nervously, then blurted, "I'm—Ray, I'm sorry for the way my father treated you—"
"No!" Ray pulled his hands free of his pants and raised them to interrupt, grasping the distraction. "Your father was great. I mean, he was great. The way he took care of Stella—"
"Yes, but I'm talking about the way he was with you. It's really about me. Ray, I came here because my father—"
"No," repeated Ray, leaning forward and shaking his head violently. "I mean, the way he saved her. I mean, I—I could never do anything like that. That was something. The reason people treat me like I'm nothing is 'cause I'm nothing."
"That's not true." Benton's eyes were fixed on Ray's face. His voice was low and urgent. He sounded breathless. "You're everything."
Ray brushed that aside and started to pace. "You don't understand the way it is for someone like me. Last month I'm eating Jujubes to keep alive, and this month women are stuffing diamonds in my pockets." He spun around to face Benton, laying it on the line. "I'm bouncing on shit and quick as that I could be down there again."
"No, that's not the way it is. It doesn't have to be that way." Benton seemed so sure of himself, so sure of Ray. But how could he know?
Ray took a step toward him. "I've never known anyone like you, Benton. You look at the world and you think you can make it better. Somebody's lost, you find them. Somebody's bleeding and you—"
"Yeah, I go get my father," said Benton, bitterly. "That's really brave, like you said—"
"That took a lot of guts to go to him," Ray snapped, glaring at him. "You're not scared of anything. I—"
Benton's hands clenched in his lap, his knuckles white. "Me? I'm scared of everything, Ray. I'm scared of what I saw, I'm scared of what I did." His voice went husky. "Of who I am." He flushed, but when he looked up at Ray, his eyes were steady. "Most of all I'm afraid of leaving this room and never again feeling—the rest of my life—the way I feel when I'm with you."
Ray froze, trapped in that gaze. His body felt hot and sweaty, like he'd been dancing for hours. He clenched his jaw and swallowed, not sure what to do, not sure whether Benton really meant what it sounded like. Benton! Even with the make-up—Jesus fuck, even after tonight, with Stella nearly dying, he seemed pure and wholesome. He was just a kid.
Okay, so he was the same age as Ray, but Ray had been places, seen things. Ray had seen things no one should have to see. He'd done things he regretted, and things he was proud of, and most times he could tell which it was gonna be before he did them. Could Benton tell? Did Benton have the faintest clue what he really wanted? Ray had no answer to that, and he sure as hell didn't want to fuck this up.
The record changed, and Cry to Me started playing, the beat making Ray twitch involuntarily.
Benton stood up, and Ray wanted to step back, wanted to keep some space between them, but his feet were rooted to the floor. For maybe the first time in his life, he couldn't move.
Then Benton said, "Dance with me", and Ray wasn't sure if it was a question or an order, but the whole thing was crazy and dumb because he still couldn't move.
He raised his chin, faking defiance. He wanted to tell Benton to run, get out of here while he still had a chance, but the words that came out his mouth were weak. "What, here?"
"Here," said Benton, sounding sure. Sounding like it'd all be okay, somehow. Some crazy how. He stepped forward, soft and serious, and rested his hot hands on Ray's bare arms, sliding them up slowly to stroke the back of Ray's neck. Every inch pushed Ray a little further out of his mind. Yeah, right in that moment, with Solomon Burke moaning in his ear and Benton's fingers turning Ray to mush, Ray forgot everything he'd ever learned. He forgot how hard life was and how it always turned to shit, and how you couldn't count on anyone. He forgot that most times when people wanted him, they only wanted his dancer's body and the convenience of using him and casting him aside. He forgot how much that had hurt the first few times, and he forgot how it didn't hurt anymore. How nothing hurt anymore.
When Benton brushed against Ray, Ray felt it, longing and pain, just like in the music. He felt it everywhere.
His hands came up, tugging Benton close. The thin t-shirt was crushed between them, but all he knew was Benton's body, the strong solid heat of him in Ray's arms. Ray pulled the t-shirt free of Benton's jeans and slipped his fingertips underneath, trailing gently across the muscles and cadence of Benton's back. Don't you feel like crying? sang Burke, but Ray didn't, nah, he felt like dancing.
He touched his lips to Benton's face, to the hairline just above his ear, and Benton turned his head a fraction into the caress, his nose and cheek soft against Ray's stubbled jaw. Benton's hands skimmed down Ray's back, smoothing away doubt. Ray pulled back, his pulse quickening at the mix of trust and certainty on Benton's face, the way his skin gleamed golden in the light from the Japanese lantern, at the knowledge of what they were about to do.
They swayed together, finding their balance. Then Ray let the music take over, let Benton's weight press against his chest. He pushed smoothly forward with his hips, grinding into Benton, drawing them both into a hot, dirty dance that would last all night.