Plating a Quiet Dish

The Really Really Really Ridiculously Good-Looking Tour ends on a high note, everyone piling offstage and into a big, raucous group hug. After two and a half months on the road with these guys, it doesn’t matter that everyone is sweaty and kind of gross; that much time together means bonding on levels previously unthought of, anyway. Besides which, Gabe takes personal offense to non-participants in the group hug, so even the techs and the security guys get in on it.

When they all break apart, though, everyone’s a little subdued; they just did their big end-of-tour party the night before, and it feels like goodbye has already happened. We the Kings and The Cab are back on the road, headed out west, and Metro Station’s off to the UK to tour with Panic. Alex is fucking thrilled that Cobra’s somehow managed to finagle almost two months off before they head to the UK themselves; he’s pretty sure he’s used up a lifetime’s quota of wanderlust in the time he’s been in this band.

It’s definitely weird packing up the bus, though; they have a big pile of clothes in the middle of the lounge, and everyone rifles through it to try and find the stuff that was theirs before the tour, and became communal property once the tour started. Alex is definitely not looking forward to doing laundry. As they all file off the bus for the last time to go their separate ways, Alex spares a glance backwards. Soon enough he’s going to be on another bus just like this one, and he’s not going to lie and say he loved bus living, but there’s still something about it that makes him smile a little.

Ryland has a big duffel like Alex’s, and they hail a cab after hugging everyone else and promising to text hourly and not get stabbed on their way to Brooklyn, thanks Gabe. They’re both slumped in the back of the taxi, barely conscious of the city streaking past them. When they pull up in front of their apartment building, it takes the last of theirenergy to pay the driver, get their stuff from the trunk, and stumble into their building.

Ryland leans on Alex as the elevator goes up, up, up, and Alex uses their combined weight to sort of throw them at their apartment door. Somehow he gets keys in the lock, and it’s not five seconds before Ryland kicks their bags off to the side, mumbles something about bed, glorious bed, and walks blindly to their bedroom.

Alex tries to rub the sleep from his eyes and succeeds only in making little stars appear. He sighs, looks around their dusty apartment, and shrugs, following Ryland to the bedroom and collapsing beside him.

When he wakes up in the morning, Ryland is gone, but the smell of coffee is in the air. Alex looks at the clock, and he totally slept for fifteen hours straight through; he hasn’t done that since his pastry final a couple years ago. Outside Daylight Savings is working its magic; it’s still bright blue with some wisps of clouds and the afternoon remnants of late-winter sunlight coming through the window. Alex scrubs a hand over his face and flops on his back. What the fuck am I going to do today, he thinks. It’s hard to remember what life without soundcheck is like.

He gets up and throws on a new pair of boxers and a fresh white t-shirt, just because he can, just because they’re clean, and shuffles to the kitchen. Ryland left the coffee heating, and it’s probably been there too long but Alex seriously does not care; for the last two weeks they’d been drinking instant when they couldn’t convince someone to run for coffee, and even if this pot is slightly overcooked it’s still better than Folger’s granules.

He stirs in sugar, and is surprised to find a pint of milk in the fridge. “A thousand blessings upon your house,” he mutters for Ryland, pouring in the milk until its a nice caramel colour. He sidesteps the still-untouched bags on the floor and carefully sits on the couch, looking around their apartment while he drinks deeply from his mug.

They took this apartment six months ago, when their leases were coming up and it was becoming obvious that they were going to be away more than they were going to be around. It was just easier to be roommates and share a place, and if they took the bigger bedroom for themselves, the other could be a bitchin’ music room. It made sense, like a lot of things did for Alex and Ryland.

They’d been Alex-and-Ryland since they met by accident after years apart; if Alex believed in fate, he would point to that as evidence thereof, but since he really just believes in things being awesome, he’s pretty happy things worked out. They’d been friends in high school, good friends, but the kid you are at 18 and desperate to get out of Florida: Elderly Style, and the person you are at 24 and trying to make it are two different people altogether.

Reconnecting with Ryland was like finding some part of himself he didn’t know he was looking for. Luckily, Ryland felt the same way.

Their relationship was pretty easygoing, and it worked for them; getting the Cobra Starship gig hadn’t changed that at all, and Gabe was delighted at their chill attitude towards coupledom. Vicky just laughed and left them old Valentine’s cards taped to their bunks, and Nate was oblivious to anything that wasn’t teenaged, legal, and wearing an appropriate band t-shirt. It was the best job either of them ever had, and when they went home from it, they went home to each other.

When Alex looked up from his coffee and his waking-up thoughts, he realized it was almost 3 in the afternoon. “Fuck,” he said out loud, flexing his toes in the rug next to the couch. He had a lot of options. He could go back to bed. He could do his laundry. He could watch some tv. He could go back to bed.

Suddenly, though, his stomach rumbled, and Alex looked down at it like the traitor it was. Fine, food took priority.

Actually, now that he thought about it, food sounded awesome. Like, real food. Real food that Alex could cook and not have to obey the stupid rule about sharp things and the bus. It was just that one time they decided to re-enact a slasher film, and now knives were banned by Tour Manager Mitch. Alex got up and poked through a cabinet until he found the travel mug he wanted, and poured the rest of the pot in before going back to the bedroom for real clothes.

The closest Whole Foods was across the bridge, and a couple blocks away from the subway, but fuck that. If Alex was going to buy food, he was going to buy nice food, not just whatever looked halfway decent at the corner store. He’d lived off hot pockets and pizza and late-night fast food runs for way too long. And that was fine, if you needed fuel for performing and not much else. There was only so much you could get out of a truckstop at three a.m. in the middle of Ohio, after all. Most of the time, Alex shut up and ate whatever was available like everyone else; but there occasionally came a point where Alex couldn’t take it anymore and dragged Ryland off with him to eat somewhere nice, with actual cutlery and a decent wine list. He wasn’t a fussy eater. He just had limits, is all.

Alex rummaged around in his bag for his wallet and keys, and came across a still-wrapped granola bar. He grabbed it and tore it open, shoving it in his mouth as he shrugged on his jacket and grabbed his sunglasses from the table. It would tide him over until he got to Mecca.

Getting to Manhattan was uneventful; Alex still wasn’t used to getting recognized, but it didn’t happen that often, and frankly, the way he looked right now, he’d totally give a kid +500 scene points if they made him slumped on a bench with an after-tour hangover. It was a weird kind of relief to ride the subway again; the movement was familiar, but not, sort of like the bus but a little more shaky. It spit him out into slightly warmer air, and Alex sipped from his coffee as he meandered towards the store.

It was nice to be back in New York again. He liked it here, a lot. It wasn’t a place that he missed exactly, not the way he missed his mother’s casserole (but never Florida itself); but he always looked forward to coming back here after being away, and that was definitely something. There was nowhere he’d rather be living, anyway, except on a tour bus with Ryland and his band, and that was pretty much his reality.

When he got to Whole Foods, it was busy but not that busy; there were enough people that Alex was resigned to spending more time in line to check out than in the store itself, but not enough that he was going to have to cut a bitch to get a tomato. He grabbed one of the basket-carts and tucked his now-empty mug into it. He got past the flowers and suddenly, there was produce.

Alex let out a half-suppressed moan of joy and made a beeline for anything green. God, vegetables. He wasn’t even a fucking vegetarian and there were nights he woke up from dreaming about zucchini. Ryland liked to say he was actually dreaming of something else, doyaknowwhatImean, but Alex was totally serious when he said he woke up hungry from a dream about the zucchini and mushroom risotto he made when he was 19.

Alex tried not to fondle everything, but it was so hard. There was so much to choose from, so many options he could go with. But he really didn’t want to carry a lot of shit back with him, and he and Ryland would probably end up spending most of their time out of the apartment anyway as their friends held parties to welcome them back. With a fair amount of restraint, Alex made himself pick up only some robust-looking spinach, some tomatoes on the vine, and a bunch of organic carrots he had already decided to braise.

Leaving the produce section with one last longing look, Alex knew more of less the rest of what he wanted. Definitely a nice steak for each of them, and the trout looked healthy so he had a couple of fillets wrapped up for tomorrow. He ran back and grabbed some potatoes, carefully not looking at any bright explosions of colour that might tempt him into buying more vegetables.

There wasn’t a whole lot he was going to let himself buy beyond that, though. He grabbed the granola Ryland liked, the one with the dried strawberries in it, and some Terra chips for himself. He added in the probiotic yoghurt Gabe liked to wax rhapsodic about, and wavered at the ready-made food for just a second before grabbing a sushi to-go box because apparently salmon nigiri was the way to his heart right now. Just as he was grabbing some Vitamin Water for the trip back, he saw a bundle of fresh basil someone had thrown carelessly in the drinks fridge, probably a last-minute decision against it; on impulse Alex threw it in his basket too. It wasn’t like he wouldn’t find a use for it.

He kept himself from murdering the other people in the line and the cashier for his excrutiating slowness by flipping through Utne and people-watching behind his sunglasses. Alex recognized one or two people, but decided not to bother them; he was pretty tired of being that kid on the scene, and he wasn’t in the mood to bug anybody else who might be looking for a little anonymity. The last remnants of the lunch crowd were filtering through the lines, clutching their pasta salads and bento boxes, anxious about losing minutes of their precious lunch break. Alex felt for them. That had been him, up until a year and a half ago.

Finally he got through the line, and the bored cashier slid everything to him and swiped his card as Alex arranged things carefully in a paper bag. It was more of a pain in the ass to carry, but he liked the way it looked more, and he ended up using it as a trash bin anyway. He scribbled his name and was shocked slightly that it didn’t feel like an autograph.

The ride back was just as uneventful, but Alex felt a little more alive, a little more himself, for making the trip. Also, he reflected, it was the first time he’d been alone, not even Ryland around, for a really long time. It was kind of nice.

The apartment was still empty went he got back in, but this time there was a post-it attached to the door that said, so sleeping suarez awakes. gone over to eddie’s, back by seven for dinner? gimme a txt if you need anything. Alex ran a thumb over the letters and realized he had totally forgotten to take his phone with him. He set the bag on the counter and went to retrieve it from the bedroom; predictably, it was dead, so he set it to charge and put things away.

He practically inhaled his sushi and vitamin water, and when he was done he turned on his phone. Voicemail from his parents, text from Gabe, text from Nate, Gizmo picture from Vicky, text from Gabe, text from Gabe, text from Ryland. The one from Ryland was just a smiley and wakey wakey; Alex quickly thumbed I thought sleepers were supposed to get a kiss to wake them up, where’s mine?

He puttered around the apartment, dragging their bags into the bedroom (but still refusing to even think about doing laundry) and squinting at himself in the mirror, thinking about taking a shower and shaving. His phone started playing “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” (fucking Gabe) and vibrating against the countertop, and he went back and swiped it, hitting the call button.

“You know, I tried that, but you were strangely immobile,” Ryland’s laughing voice came over the line.

“I guess you should have tried harder,” Alex replied, leaning against the counter.

“Nah, you looked too cute to wake up. They never tell you that emo bangs make you look about five years old when you sleep; that’s how they trick you into the haircut.”

Alex snorted. “How’s Eddie?”


“So he’s good then?”

“You know it. We’re just catching up, but I could head back if you want.”

“No, it’s cool. I got some food from the store, so come back for dinner, but I think I’m just going to hang out here for awhile. Thanks for the coffee this morning, by the way.”

“Well, I figured you wouldn’t mind if it was sludge as long as it was coffee-related sludge. Seven okay?”

“Seven’s fine. See you then.”

“Bye Alex,” Ryland said, and clicked off the line.

Alex yawned, scratched his stomach, and decided to follow his impulse and take a shower.

After, though, he was kind of tired, so he set his alarm for five-thirty and crawled into bed for a nap. Fuck fifteen hours of sleep; he had a bed, and he was damn well going to use it.

When his alarm went off, he flailed at it until it stopped bleating, and then stumbled out of bed and into the hallway. It was still light outside, which was kind of a novelty, but Alex turned on a couple of lights anyway. He went to the living room and put on some music–his once-recent acquisition of the newest Iron & Wine album was still sitting where he left it three months ago after ripping it to his computer, so he put that in the stereo and let it fill the living room.

He started banging around in the kitchen, setting the oven to pre-heat and pulling out the things he wanted to use. Most of the pans were some amalgam of donations and sale purchases and mother hand me downs, but they were all serviceable and Alex kept them in good condition. He took out his favorite knife, the one he got as a family gift when he graduated from culinary school, and sharpened it, loving the light twang it made as it sliced through the air.

He dealt with the potatoes first, quartering them until they were small enough to boil through quickly, and dumped them in a pot, putting in just enough water to cover them and setting it on the back burner to boil. He grabbed the steaks from the fridge, and cut off the bits of fat around the edges, inspecting the meat as he went. They were good looking cuts; he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a nice steak. The spinach wouldn’t take a minute, so he puttered around, poking through the pantry and humming to the stereo, occasionally singing harmony.

When the potatoes were boiling away, Alex checked the clock and reached for his phone. get a decent red please he texted Ryland. A couple minutes later he got back would you prefer a labelled chianti or a gallon of carlo rossi, good sir? and laughed even as he typed the chianti, fucker. Alex always preferred Italian wines, because they went with everything and were generally of a high standard at any price range. He was no sommelier, but he had some opinions.

He quickly seared the steaks, and then stuck them in the oven, which was on low heat enough to keep it warm but not enough to overcook it. He drained the potatoes and put them in a bowl, and used the already-hot burner to set some more water going for the spinach. He threw salt, pepper, garlic powder, and the rest of the milk in with the potatoes and mashed it a little. Not too much, but enough to get a nice ratio of smoothness to lumps. When he turned back the water was ready, and he put in the spinach, a handful at a time, letting it wilt and turn a dark, verdant green.

He pulled the steaks from the over just as the key was turning in the door, and he looked up to see Ryland walk in — wearing an old-man sweater and one of Alex’s t-shirts — with a bottle of wine in hand.

“Hey,” Ryland said with a smile, coming in to the kitchen to crowd Alex’s space and set the wine on the counter. “I’d almost forgotten what real food smelled like.”

Alex snorted. “You and me both,” he said. “Move, I’ve got to grab these plates.”

“Hey, they can wait a minute,” Ryland said, pulling Alex close and kissing him.

Alex protested a little, because seriously, the spinach, but he let his hand creep up to Ryland’s neck, bringing him a little closer. When they parted, Alex’s eyes were drawn to Ryland’s mouth, shiny and a bit red from Alex’s teeth. “Making up for this morning, huh?” Alex murmured.

“I think you have morning confused with afternoon,” grinned Ryland, running a hand through Alex’s hair. “But that’s okay, we give free passes to people who cook me dinner.”

“Good to know,” Alex said dryly. “Now move for real.”

Ryland backed up, letting Alex get to the spinach to drain it. As he was plating things up, Ryland grabbed a couple of wine glasses and the corkscrew, opening the bottle and pouring its contents into the glasses. Alex winced, but only a little; he would have let it breathe, but it didn’t really matter, they were ready to eat anyway.

He put down plates and grabbed some cutlery for the counter. The only other option was the couch, and couch with steak knives was like a recipe for, well. For a pretty amusing Youtube clip, but not so much for a nice dinner with his boyfriend.

“Oh holy cobra,” Ryland said when he put the first bite of steak into his mouth. “I am taking my mother’s advice and you and I are getting married the next time we roll into Vegas. Seriously, Alex, this is so fucking good I think my mouth just spontaneously orgasmed.”

Alex shrugged. “I don’t think dudes can get married in Vegas yet, Ryland. I think we would have heard something from Panic at the Disco by now if we could.” He felt more than heard Ryland’s laughter. “But I’m glad you like it. I just, you know. I wanted real food.”

“And you wanted to cook again,” Ryland said.

Alex didn’t deny it–he never regretted moving to New York and not following up on his culinary degree. But it was a set of skills he’d spent a long time learning, and sometimes it sucked not to be able to utilize them more often.

“It’s better if you have an appreciative audience,” he said, taking a bite of the potatoes. They were okay, but they would have been better with roasted garlic. He’d have to remember to pick some up the next time they went shopping.

“I will show you just how appreciative I am,” Ryland said, practically shoving the spinach into his mouth, “but after dinner. Right now this food is better than any blowjob.”

Alex raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not, seeing as I’m also the designated blowjob-giver.”

“We’ll call it an equal scoring. Shut up and eat your food.”

Alex laughed, and they ate in a companionable silence with music still whispering in the background. When they were done, Ryland’s foot had become entangled with Alex’s, and they were about three inches closer than they were at the start of the meal. Alex couldn’t stop grinning.

“So, hey,” Ryland said, pushing his plate away and slinging an arm over Alex’s shoulders. “We have this awesome bed, and so far it’s only been used for one of its two designated purposes.”

“Oh really?” Alex said, putting his head in the space between Ryland’s neck and shoulder, rubbing his nose against the skin there. “That should be fixed immediately.”

There was a brief scramble to pull off clothing, but then they were against each other again, rubbing and touching and licking into each other’s mouths. Alex started to jerk them both off, but Ryland pulled away, turning them around until Alex was resting against the pillows and Ryland went down, down, down. “Appreciation time,” Ryland said in that low voice he got whenever they had sex.

Alex stretched, rolling his body closer to Ryland’s. “Please, do tell,” he said, laughing a little.

Ryland kissed down Alex’s chest, grasping Alex’s cock and giving it a few slow pulls that had Alex’s toes curling, before holding the base and taking the head into his mouth. Ryland licked at the slit, sucking hard at the tip before taking more in. He hit his hand and started a back and forth motion that made Alex shudder and moan. Alex grasped the sheets in his hands and stuttered out Ryland’s name. He saw Ryland’s hand working on his own dick out of the corner of his eye, and he wanted to do that himself, but then he was coming as Ryland sucked particularly hard and he could only fall back, limp, against the bed. It would have been embarrassing how quickly he’d fallen apart, but Ryland knew every single trick to make Alex crazy, and sometimes he liked to see just how fast he could set Alex off.

Sure enough, when Alex opened his eyes again, Ryland was looking at him with that glinty expression, somewhere between satisfaction and pleasure. He was fisting his own cock, and just as Alex shifted to reach for Ryland, Ryland came all over Alex’s chest. Alex just stretched again and let Ryland look, because there were times when that’s what Ryland appreciated more than anything else. He reached for a tissue, though, because this was going to get sticky pretty fast, and Ryland stilled his hand.

“The cook doesn’t clean,” Ryland said wickedly, and Alex groaned in horror at the pun even as Ryland started licking at Alex’s stomach. It was kind of nice, though, the brush of Ryland’s tongue against his skin, so he just closed his eyes and went with it.

Ryland settled next to him, pulling and arranging him until Alex was tucked up under one of Ryland’s ridiculously long arms. Alex seriously thought he could go to sleep right now, again. He wondered if there was some kind of sleep bar chart that slowly balanced up as you got more rest. It seemed plausible.

As Alex was letting himself settle, sated it more ways than one, Ryland stage-whispered, “And just think, we get to do this all over again tomorrow.”

Alex smiled against Ryland’s skin. “You’re fucking right we do.”