by Synchronik (as Charlemagne)
Dan had just tipped the last of his lukewarm beer down his throat when he was made aware of the problem.
"You're not going to believe this," Jeremy said, practically screeching to a halt in front of them, "but we're not allowed in the kitchen."
"I'm sorry," Casey said.
"You're blocking the t.v." Dan said. He leaned outward, trying to see around Jeremy's cords, but all he got was a glimpse of the pitcher's leg as he went through his motion.
"No, you don't seem to understand the gravity of this situation. We. Are. Not. Allowed. In. The. Kitchen." Jeremy was gesticulating wildly with each word. Dan thought it looked like he was doing sign language really loudly.
"We can hear, Jeremy," Casey said.
"Even without the earpieces," Dan added. He was tilted out and away from the center of the couch, one hand latched to Casey's arm for balance.
"And yet you still fail to understand me. We. Are. Not--"
"The beer's in the kitchen," Elliot said before grabbing the remote and cranking the volume.
"Why aren't we allowed in the kitchen?" Dan asked. He stood. The beer bottle in his hand was suddenly and achingly empty.
"It's been declared a man-free zone." Jeremy was murmuring now, in response to the scowls of those really watching the game.
"A man-free zone."
"Okay, attention, everyone!" Dan spread his arms out. "We have been barred from the kitchen! This means no more beer, no more chips, no more anything!"
"I have a fresh beer," Casey said.
"There's a bowl of chips right here." Chris lifted a big plastic bowl.
"We could just buy more beer," Isaac suggested. "That's why they have liquor stores."
"So none of you are even considering going in there and demanding our equal access rights to the refreshments in the kitchen?" Dan asked. His arms were still outspread, but he felt a little stupid. He had been hoping for some male bonding stampede into the kitchen, followed by some pleasant female squealing and giggling and bouncing.
"You're kidding, right, Daniel?"
"Well, I wasn't," he muttered.
"Come on, Dan," Jeremy said. "We'll take care of it."
"You do that," Casey said. He put his feet up on the couch where Dan had been sitting.
Taking care of it proved to be more difficult than Dan had anticipated. He had started by knocking and asking nicely, but Dana had leaned out the door and shook her head at him.
"Now what?" he asked.
Jeremy shrugged. "Burst through the door like a cop on a bad police show?"
"Okay," Dan said. Shortly after that he said "Ow! Fuck! Ow!" while he was hopping around holding his shoulder. Dana's head popped out from behind the door again.
"Are you okay?" she asked. Dan nodded, still rubbing his shoulder. "We braced the door. But you're okay?"
Despite the tears welling in his eyes--he was going to have a bruise the size of a grapefruit, he thought--Dan nodded again.
"Okay," Dana said. The door shut.
"Damn!" Jeremy whispered. "We need a plan."
The door swung open again. Natalie.
"Are you sure you're okay, Dan?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'll be okay."
"Okay." She disappeared back inside, and there was thud as something that sounded like a chair was pushed back against the door.
Dan shuffled back into the living room, still rubbing his shoulder. Casey looked up, swigging his half-empty beer. "You okay?"
"Dan had an unfortunate run in with the kitchen door," Jeremy said.
"We're still banned, hmm?"
"They did show a touching concern for my well-being," Dan said. Casey stood up, placing one hand on Dan's injured shoulder, rubbing gently. His hand was warm.
"Okay, let's go."
"You're going?" Chris asked.
"Never send a boy to do a man's work."
"I'm older than you," Dan said.
"And yet, somehow, still a boy," Casey said. "Come on."
The status of Casey's manhood was thrown into doubt only moments later when Dana steadfastly refused to open the door.
"Dana, please," Casey said, pressing his face into the crack between the door and the frame. "Please, please, please?"
"Witness the power of man," Jeremy said. Dan snickered.
Dana opened the door. "Face it, Casey, you're banned. Banned from the kitchen and all it's earthly delights."
"But why?" he asked.
"Casey wants to know why," Dana said over her shoulder.
"He should know why!" Sally shouted.
Although Dana wasn't looking, Dan noticed that Casey winced.
"For the mistreatment of women everywhere!" Natalie cried. Dan heard cheers from the recesses of the kitchen.
"Okay, it was not my idea for the dating plan!"
Dan put his hand on Casey's shoulder. "I think the overwhelming power of your manhood has failed us, my friend."
Casey scowled. "I wouldn't talk. Natalie still owns yours."
"And mine," Jeremy added. "Face it, gentlemen, we're not getting--"
He was cut off by the sound of the door swinging open. It was Natalie, a glass of something red sloshing in her hand.
"Hey, Danny," she said. "You wanna come in?"
"Wait, what?" Jeremy asked.
"I was asking Dan if he would like to come into the kitchen," Natalie said, squaring her shoulders.
"But I thought that the kitchen was a man-free zone," Jeremy said.
"It is." She nodded. "We're making an exception for Dan because he got hurt in the line of duty. Besides, Dan is a woman anyway."
"Why do I feel like I should be insulted by this?" Dan asked.
"We'll let you have Dan on one condition," Casey said, shoving Dan behind him.
"Condition?" Dan said. His voice sounded high and squeaky. Casey, in shoving him, had his hand on Dan's ass, holding him in place.
"What?" Natalie crossed her arms over her chest, almost spilling the red drink down her shirt.
"We want the case of beer."
"Hmm . . ." Natalie looked heavenward for a moment, thinking. "They'll trade us Dan for a case of beer," she shouted into the kitchen. Various female voices shouted things back, and one narrow hand, Sally's by the look of it, held a case of beer from behind the door.
Natalie reached past Casey and snagged Dan's shirt with two fingers. "Come on."
Dan, feeling something like a high class call girl, went.
Jeremy went into the living room and sat down on the end of the couch. He was cradling a case of beer in his lap. Casey sat beside him.
"Where's Dan?" Isaac asked.
"He's a woman," Jeremy said.
"Hmm," Isaac said.
"Dan!" Kim cried, when the door shut behind him. She flung her arms around his neck. "Welcome to the kitchen!"
Allison, the make-up girl, also hugged him, and Dana handed him a drink. It was red, like Natalie's.
"What's this?" he asked.
"The obligatory 'welcome to the kitchen' drink," Dana said. "Drink it."
Dan drank. "Tequila," he gasped.
Women's laughter, up close, was loud and melodic, like the pealing of too many bells at once. Kim slapped his wounded shoulder. Natalie swung her arm up and around his neck. Dana poured him another shot.
"To Dan!" Natalie said. "Who is officially a woman!" There were cheers.
"I'm thinking I should be offended by this," Dan said.
"We can still kick you out, Danny-boy," Sally said, poking him in the ribs. She had quite a poker on her.
They didn't kick him out. In fact, after a while, they seemed to forget he was there.
Natalie sat on the counter, swinging her feet, sipping some red drink. It was supposed to taste like strawberries, Dana had told him when she handed him his own glass, but really it tasted more like Kool-Aid to Dan. Kool-Aid and tequila. The taste got better, though, the more he drank.
"You all don't think I'm cute, do you?" she asked.
"Natalie, don't start this," Dana said.
"I'm just asking because--"
"We know why you're asking, Natalie, and we're not answering," Sally said. Dan looked around. Kim and Allison were nodding and not looking at Natalie.
"I was just thinking that--"
"Natalie!" Dana said.
"Wait, I'm missing something," Dan said. "Aren't we supposed to say that she is cute? Don't you want to be cute?" he asked Natalie.
"No!" she wailed. "I don't want to be cute, Danny! I want to be respected, I want to be admired. I want to be feared. And how can I possibly be any of those things if I'm cute?"
"I'm a little afraid of you right now," Dan said. Natalie didn't seem to hear.
"Dana is respected, Allison is admired, Sally is feared. Kim is just plain sexy--"
"Thank you," Kim said.
"--and I'm just plain cute. It's a kiss of death in the business world."
"It is," Sally said.
"Sing it, sister," Dana said.
"Do you really think it makes that much of a difference?" Dan asked, bewildered.
"Your penis is showing," Sally said. Confused, Dan looked down. The women laughed.
"Here," Allison said, handing him another glass. "You need this."
Casey kept his eyes on the screen. "He'll be fine."
"You're sure? Because, Casey, he's in there with five of the scariest people I know."
Casey took a drink from his can, swallowed, considering.
"How else are we going to find out what they're saying?" he asked.
"Good point," Jeremy said.
"So you're saying that personality is what makes a man most attractive to you," Sally said.
Natalie nodded, nodded, nodded. Dan thought she might have had too much to drink, but since she was still upright and he was lying on his arm on the table, he supposed he was in no place to judge. "Uh huh. Absolutely. One hundred percent."
"And the fact that Jeremy has a cute little rear-end has nothing to do with it."
"You stay away from his rear-end, Sally."
Sally held up her hands. "I'm just saying it's not his personality that looks good in those corduroys."
"Well, what makes a man attractive to you, Sally?" Kim asked.
"He has to be breathing," Dana muttered. Dan snorted. Sally glanced over at him.
"Look at Danny, here," she said. She leaned into him, draping her arm over his back. Her fingers trailed through his hair. He wasn't sure if he should move to shake her off or no: he'd never been this close to Sally before and there was something disconcerting about lying on the table while she played with his hair. It felt like he was the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner. "He's cute--"
"--but normally he's not my type. But look at him now. All drunk and relaxed. He looks like someone could take advantage of him. That's sexy."
"I'm sexy because I'm helpless," Dan said, lifting his head. Sally smiled a toothsome smile, and nodded. "That's reassuring."
"You know what really works for me," Natalie said. "What really makes me want to sweep everything off the desk and grab a guy?"
"His shoulders," Dan said.
"How'd you know?" Natalie laughed.
"You told me." He emptied the glass in front of him. The tequila punch had stopped burning his throat about two glasses ago. He was tingling now, especially where Sally's finger had traced a pattern on the back of his neck. "When you and Jeremy first started going out."
"See, I told you he was a woman!" Natalie crowed. "What about you, Dana. What do you like in a man?"
"Hands," Dana said. "I look at their hands."
Dan held up his hand in front of his face. "Hands?" he said. His hand looked big, and slightly blurry. They did not look sexy.
"Casey has nice hands," Sally said. A frown passed across Dana's face, but Dan didn't notice. Casey's hands. Casey did have nice hands. Hands that typed much faster than his. Casey had played piano when he was a kid, and that gave him reach.
"Casey has nice shoulders," he said.
"Casey has quite a few nice things," Dana said. "Can we change the subject?"
"To what?" Sally asked.
"To who was your best lover ever," Kim said, plopping down on the chair next to Dan.
"God!" Sally laughed, slapping Dan on the back and going to the fridge. "His name was Ethan. He was English."
"English!" Dana screeched, laughing. Even through his drunken haze, Dan suspected she was relieved that Casey's name hadn't come up again. "An English guy was your best lover ever?"
"I know. It doesn't sound very sexy, but he would talk all the way through and there was something about that accent that just killed me."
"To accents!" Kim said, raising Dan's hand so he could toast with them. The punch slid down his throat like water. "Mine was this guy from college, Robert. He was just so sensitive."
"You like that?" Susannah asked. "I hate it when they get all mushy and sweet on me."
"Not that kind of sensitive," Kim said. She pursed her lips together and blew. Dan smiled.
"I'm sensitive," he offered.
"Uh huh," Kim said. She reached out with one finger and touched his lips. "Your mouth is all red."
"You have a good mouth," Sally said. "Very expressive."
"Really?" he asked. A good mouth. That was new. Maybe . . . he brushed the tip of his tongue against Kim's fingertip. She raised an eyebrow at him and took her finger away. Damn. He put his head down on his arm again, resting. Sometimes, if he sat up too quickly, his head spun.
"You know what really turns me on?" Susannah said.
"Casey has a good mouth," Dan said. He passed out, and so did not see the looks that passed among the women.
Dan woke up on Kim's waterbed in the early morning. His head throbbed. He wasn't really up, he knew, as he staggered to the bathroom. He was just surfacing for a second: the alcohol was leaving his body. He peed for a long time, bracing himself against the cool tile of the bathroom with one hand, then washed his hands and splashed his face with cold water. His reflection in the mirror was blurry. His mouth was still red from the punch.
Dan walked back to Kim's room in the dark, wondering where Kim had ended up since she wasn't in the bed with him, unfortunately. He flopped down again, sighing. Waves rolled under him. Kim on this bed . . .
He was distracted from his thoughts by a moan from the far side of the bed.
"Who is it?" he whispered.
Another soft moan, and waves from someone else moving on the bed. Danny leaned forward, trying to see in the dark.
"Who is it?" he whispered again.
"Casey?" Dan whispered. His hand found Casey's arm in the dark.
"Are you okay?" Casey asked. His voice was ragged from sleep. His skin was shockingly warm.
"Yeah, I think so."
"Mmm," Casey answered. He rolled over, away from Dan, and fell back to sleep.
Dan slept as well, riding on the gentle rush of Casey's waves.
He was awoke for the second time by the resounding crash of a tidal wave in the water bed that sent him up and onto Casey's sharp elbow.
"Ow, fuck!" Dan yelped. Casey's elbow might have broken his rib, but it was the immense throbbing pain in his head that he suspected would cause him the most misery. Beneath him, Casey groaned. Kim, whose pounce onto the bed had caused the sudden tsunami, smiled.
"Who's for breakfast?" she asked. "Scrambled eggs."
"Get the fuck off me, Danny," Casey muttered, shoving at him. In the end, Dan would not know whether or not it was Casey's hand planted squarely in his stomach, or the rolling of the bed or the incredible amounts of tequila punch still in his system, or Kim's sadistic offer of scrambled eggs, but the end result was the same--he bolted for the bathroom, bending over the toilet just in time to hurl the contents of his stomach into it. His vomit was red like blood, and smelled of a Mexican restaurant.
"Maybe someone should go after him," Natalie said.
They were gathered around Kim's dining room table in various states of dishabille, picking at the fantastic breakfast spread in front of them. Kim knew how to throw a morning-after-party party, but most of them didn't feel too much like eating. Casey, who had stuck to beer, and stopped at about eleven when it became clear that they would not be getting into the kitchen any time soon, was loading up his plate with toast and bacon.
"He's just puking," Sally said. "He'll be fine."
"No, I really think someone should go check on him," Natalie said, louder. Several people groaned at her volume.
"Why don't you, Natalie, since you're so fired up about it?" Sally asked.
"No, no," Dana said. "I think Dan's had enough of us for one day. I think Casey should do it."
Casey looked up, his mouth full of bacon.
"You know what, Dana, I think you're right." Sally nodded.
"Okay, what the hell is going on?" Casey asked.
"What?" Dana and Sally asked, in unison. Their eyes were sufficiently wide and innocent to convince him that they were pulling something.
"We just think that you should go help out your best friend," Natalie said. She took his plate from his hand and turned him toward the bathroom.
"Yeah, he could really use your help," Kim said, giving him a little push. "Wash cloths are in the cupboard."
"Wait," Casey said, while Natalie was pushing him into the hallway. "Why would I need washcloths?"
The hand on his shoulder was warm and reassuring. It rubbed gentle circles on his bruised shoulder, and distracted him from the sickly sweet smell of used Kool Aid. It didn't feel like Natalie's hand.
"You okay, man?" Casey murmured in his ear.
Dan, who was hanging over the edge of the toilet resting his forehead on his arm and spitting periodically, actually had to fight the urge to say that he was fine.
"I look okay?" he muttered.
"No." Casey laughed. He ran his hand over Dan's hair. Dan suspected that his hair probably looked like someone had styled it with an eggbeater. "You want a washcloth?"
"A washcloth? Do I have something on my face?" He rubbed his forearm across his mouth. Casey laughed and stood up, hauling Dan up by the armpits. Dan stood, arms outstretched, reaching for the walls.
"Here." He handed Dan on of the fancy towels hanging on Kim's rack. Dan bent over the sink and washed his face, rinsed his mouth out with water. Casey leaned one hip against the sink and watched. When Dan was done, drying his face on the corner of the fancy towel, Casey spoke.
"So," he said. "Did they say anything about me?"
The funny thing was, Danny couldn't remember exactly what had been said, about Casey or anyone. He remembered that accents were sexy, and that mouths were good, and that Sally had fondled him, and he knew that somehow all those things didn't add up to a complete night in the kitchen. The up side of not-remembering was that when Casey and Jeremy pumped him for insider information, Dan could just smile enigmatically and lean back in his chair and say "I'm sorry my friend, I was sworn to secrecy." It drove them crazy and there was something deeply satisfying in that.
The down side, of course, was that he didn't remember.
Casey came in to the office four days later and threw his coat down on the couch.
"You have to tell me what they said, Danny. This is killing me."
Dan folded his hand behind his head. "I'm sorry, my friend--"
"You're sworn to secrecy. I've heard it. But they're all giving me these looks like they know something about me they didn't know before, and I have to know what they know so I don't have to act like I know when I DON'T KNOW!"
"That's a lot of knowing, Case."
"Okay, okay." Dan held his hands up, surrendering. It was hardly fair if Casey was freaking out. "I don't remember."
"--remember. That's what I said."
"You've been driving me nuts with the 'sworn to secrecy' bit and you don't remember."
"Case, do you have any idea how much tequila I drank that night? Natalie's a little thing, but she can hold her liquor."
"You don't remember anything."
"I remember that accents are sexy."
"That hardly seems to be about me."
"I don't think it is, no."
"But you don't remember anything else."
"I remember waking up next to you."
"They wanted me to make sure you didn't choke on your own vomit."
"You're welcome." Casey ran his hand through his hair. "But you really don't remember."
"I think you're lying," Casey said. Dan felt the blood rush to his face.
"You remember, don't you?"
Dan looked away, out the open door. He hadn't remembered, not until just then, when Casey said he was lying. Then he had remembered with perfect clarity saying "Casey has a nice mouth." That was it. Nothing else.
"I--no, I don't remember."
"Fuck!" Casey said again. Then he stormed out.
He was walking by the catering table when he saw Natalie looking at him with that same sudden and skeptical look that all the women in the office had assumed since the party. It was a sideways look, sometimes accompanied by a smile, sometimes not. It drove him crazy. He knew it had been a mistake to invite Sally.
"Hey, Natalie," can I talk to you for a second?" he asked.
"Sure, Case," she said. "What's up?"
He took her into the conference room and sat her down in one of the chairs, crouching in front of her and resting his hands on the arms of the chair.
"Please tell me what was said about me at the party."
"At the party?" she said. Her voice was shiny and bright and false.
"Natalie, it's driving me crazy. Please."
"There wasn't anything, really, Casey."
Casey sighed, tipping his head to the arm of the chair.
"You know, Dan's a really great guy," Natalie said.
"I already asked him," Casey muttered into the arm of the chair.
"I'm sure you did. I'm just saying, he's a really great guy. And a good friend. Dan's a good friend."
Casey looked up at her, speculatively. "Yeah, he is, Natalie. What's your point?"
"No point. I'm just saying that Dan's great. A great guy. And if there was something, which there is not, I couldn't tell you, because it might be misinterpreted. Not that it could be. If there was something. But there isn't."
"But if there were, then it might be misinterpreted."
Natalie nodded. "And then somebody could end up getting hurt. Someone who's a great person and a great friend, and doesn't deserve to get hurt, Casey, especially not after Rebecca."
"Especially after Rebecca?" Casey said. She had lost him somewhere around "misinterpretation."
"After Rebecca, Danny deserves someone who really wants him. Someone who won't hurt him, don't you think, Casey?"
"I, um, sure, Natalie. But what does this have to do with the party?" he asked.
"Nothing. I'm just saying."
"And now I have a show to schedule," Natalie said, lifting up one of his hands and scooting out of the chair. Casey stayed there in the conference room for a little while, considering things.
"You have a crush on someone, don't you?" Casey said. Danny looked up from his computer screen.
"You have a crush on someone. And you told them at the party and now they keep looking at me because they know I don't know."
"Does this make sense in your little universe, Casey, because you totally lost me."
"You have a crush on someone."
"Okay," Dan said, amicably. "I have a crush on someone. And now I'm going to finish writing my show."
"Dan has a crush on someone, doesn't he?"
Natalie looked up from her computer screen.
"Dan has a crush on someone."
Natalie sighed. "Since it's obvious you aren't going to let me work until I answer this question, I'm going to tell you yes, I think Dan has a crush on someone. But you can't tell him I said so."
"Wait, I can't tell Dan about his own crush?"
Natalie shook her head. "It's a secret crush."
"A secret crush. Secret from Dan, who actually has the crush."
Natalie nodded. "He may not know he has it."
"But he does."
"I think so," Natalie said.
"And you guys can all stop looking at me now, because now you know I know about Dan's secret crush that even he may not know about."
"Sure, Casey. Now, I'm going to finish scheduling the show."
"You know, you could tell me if you had a crush on someone."
Dan looked up. "Are you going to keep doing this? I'm just asking because I have half of a show to write, and it looks like I may have to write your half too, since you keep bursting in and out of here."
"I'm just saying that I'm supposed to be your best friend, and if you had a crush on someone you could tell me."
"Okay," Dan said. Casey was still staring, though, so that hadn't been the right answer. "Okay, Casey, the next time I have a crush on someone, I will tell you."
"So who is it?"
"Natalie says you have a crush on someone."
Dan gaped at his friend. "I do?" His heart was racing suddenly. "Did she happen to say who?"
"She said she couldn't say. She also said I shouldn't tell you because you might not know."
"I might not know about my own crush."
Casey held his hands out wide, the way he always did when he was trying to explain things that were not easily explained. Dan recalled that many of these gestures involved Natalie.
"I think I'd know, Casey," he said.
"I agree. Which is why I am saying to you, Danny, that whoever your crush is on, no matter how heinous, you can tell me."
"--you can confide in me--"
"--you can rely on my support and friendship--
"I already said--"
"--because I am your best friend, and will never--"
"You, okay!" Dan said.
Casey looked at him for along minute, arms still outstretched. His face was curiously blank.
"Hmm," Casey said after a minute. "I thought it might be Sally."
"Sally's a harpy," Dan muttered into his computer screen fifteen minutes later.
Casey, who had been typing at the desk, nodded. "True, true. But I thought it might be her."
Dan twisted his face up in disbelief. "Sally is a bitch on wheels. You thought I'd have a crush on her?"
"I thought it might be her."
"You thought it might be her."
"I didn't think it'd be me."
"You're much nicer than Sally," Dan pointed out. Casey nodded.
"That's true," he said.
"So, this crush," Casey said. "Did you know you had it?"
Dan shrugged, not looking over. "Not really. Not until the party."
"I hardly saw you at the party. You were in the kitchen, being a woman. Are you sure this isn't some sort of residual effect from that?"
"I didn't get the crush at the party, I realized the crush at the party. They were talking about what kinds of men they liked."
"And what kinds of men do you like?" Casey asked, teasing. But Dan's eyes when he looked over weren't smiling. They were blurry and a little red, like someone who's been called fat one too many times.
"Just you, Case," he said, quietly.
"Okay," Casey said, and went back to typing.
Right before the show started, while Danny was still leaning in the doorway to the studio, talking to Kim and trying to get a glimpse down the front of her sweater (he likes me Casey thought for one stupid moment before he realized that jealousy was not supposed to be an emotion he associated with Dan), Natalie came up and slapped him.
He was about to say something, something like "FUCK, Natalie!" one hand clapped to his injured face, but she was already leaning in, hissing like a snake about to bite.
"I told you not to say anything to him, Casey! He doesn't need for you to break his heart, too!"
Then she was gone.
Dan slid into his chair a moment later, looking concerned.
"You okay?" he said.
Casey nodded. His face hurt, a lot, and he probably had a big red mark from Natalie's hand, but somehow her words had stung more. "Yeah, I'm . . . I'm okay."
"What was that about?"
Casey shook his head. "Nothing, man. Natalie misunderstood me."
"Okay." Dan nodded and tapped his papers on the desk. "Here we go." And then Danny smiled at him, the just before the show smile, the game smile, and Casey smiled back, and the cameras were on, and they were off.
He kept coming around to it, though, over the next week or so, stumbling over the thought that Dan had a crush on him the way you would stumble over a dog who liked you so much it followed you wherever you went. He thought of it when he was brushing his teeth in the morning, wondering if Dan would find him attractive with large globs of foam hanging from his mouth. He thought of it just before hitting the shower at the gym, when he was caked with salt and sweat and smelling rank. He thought of it, once, when he was sitting on the toilet, and felt himself blush at the intimacy of it.
"Hey, Danny," he said, the day after the toilet-sitting incident. "Writing the script?"
Dan, who had looked up at the mention of his name, nodded. He was admirable, Casey thought suddenly, to have this weird secret exposed to the whole newsroom, and not flinch. The gossip had made the rounds, of course, and Elliot and Dave had sung "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" over the mikes during the 20s one night, and Isaac had made some comment about a ring being two months salary, and everything went back to normal.
Through it all, Danny had just smiled in the self-deprecating way he had that made everyone think he was okay, and kept his mouth shut. Casey wondered if Dan really was okay, or if he was pretending, the way he did sometimes. It used to be, Casey thought, that I could tell when he was faking.
"Whatcha got?" he asked, leaning over to look at the screen, one hand on Dan's shoulder.
"Tennis," Dan said. "My life would be a lot easier if you could learn how they scored."
"Not in the cards, my man." Casey turned his head and smiled. Dan smiled back, leaning away a little, drawing back, and Casey felt his fingers tighten on Dan's shoulder almost without realizing it. "You okay?" he asked.
"I? Um . . . yeah. I -- I'm fine," Dan said.
Dan pulled away and lurched up out of his chair. "I . . . Can I talk to you for a second?"
"Danny? Yeah, sure. Of course. Talk."
"In editing," Dan said, and flew out of the room.
When they got there, Dan motioned him to one of the chairs, but Dan himself didn't sit, standing instead with his back against the door, arms crossed over his chest. It was Dan's defensive posture, Casey realized. The one he used when he wanted to appear mad or bigger than someone else.
"See, here's the thing, Case," he said. "You can't." He sighed, blowing out his breath in one big puff. "You lean in like that, and I know it's just this stupid thing, but it's there, it's still there, and you can't lean in on me and smile like that, and it's just . . . you can't, okay? For a little while."
"The crush?" Casey asked.
Dan nodded. "I'm sorry, Casey. I know I'm acting like a fourteen year old girl, but just for a little while, okay. Until it goes away."
"Okay." Casey nodded, standing up. "No problem. So I shouldn't lean in like I was."
"Right," Dan said, his expression slack with relief. "No leaning."
"What if I have something to tell you? Something the women shouldn't hear?"
"Like what?" Danny asked.
Casey shrugged, moving toward the door. "A secret."
"You tell me secrets?"
"Okay, so I haven't. But what if I had one and had to tell you and Natalie couldn't know?"
"Or she might misunderstand you again."
"And we wouldn't want that to happen," Casey said, rubbing his jaw at the recollection. "I'd have to whisper it to you." He moved his hand from his jaw to the door right next to Dan's ear.
"Whisper it?" Dan asked. He was looking worried again, Casey noted.
"Uh huh, because if the women heard it, there's no telling what they would do." He took another step and was standing toe to toe with Danny, looking down at him a little.
"Women are unpredictable," Dan murmured. His arms were still crossed in front of his chest, and he was looking off to the side, away from Casey.
"Unpredictable is their middle name," Casey said. He leaned in until his forehead was leaning against his hand. He could smell Danny's shampoo from here, and feel Danny's shudder as his breath passed over the skin near Dan's ear.
"I think Dana's middle name is Marie," Dan said.
"Danny," Casey said, pushing his nose against the soft bristles of Dan's hair.
"yeah." Dan's voice was hardly audible, just the barest expression of breath.
"I think I have a crush on you."
Later, they would argue over who had actually kissed whom but it didn't matter in that second when Dan turned his head and met Casey's mouth with his own, his arms unfolding and then re-folding with Casey in them. Casey would remember that Dan's hands had come up and gripped his shoulders from behind, pressing him close. Dan would remember feeling pinned against the door in the best way, hanging on for his life, breathing Casey's breath.
"We shouldn't," Dan whispered, sometime later, when his hands had found Casey's ass, and Casey was sucking at his neck right where the sweater left off.
"I thought you were the one with the crush."
"Not here, Casey. My house."
"What's wrong with my house," Casey asked, pulling back, one hand on Dan's throat.
"Fine, your house, not here."
Casey sighed, and tilted his forehead against Dan's. "Okay, your house."
It was strange, he thought as his lips met Dan's again, that something he hadn't even considered a week ago was so hard to give up. He slid his hands under Dan's sweater, feeling the fine skin of his ribs, and Dan gasped and jerked away.
"Casey, stop it!" he hissed.
"Okay." Casey nodded. And reached for the bottom of Dan's sweater.
"I'm opening the door!" Dan said, opening the door.
"Good for you," Dana said. She had her hand up as if she were going to knock.
"I was opening the door," Dan said.
"I see that. And as impressed as we are with your physical abilities, Dan, I think we have more important things to do, don't we?"
Dan held his hands up in surrender, and casting a single desperate glance back at Casey, headed down the hall.
"I was looking for you," Dana said. "There's this guy, a Thomas something or other, who apparently a big shot--why are you smiling?"
"Smiling? I'm not." Casey said. He was grinning and he knew it.
"Casey, I am looking right at you and I can see that you're smiling."
"No, I'm not."
"Fine. What are you not smiling about?"
"Nothing, Dana. You were saying?"
"Fine. Don't tell me." She shrugged. "So this guy--"
"Dana?" Natalie leaned in. "I've got this guy Thomas on the phone-- what are you smiling about?"
"Nothing!" Casey said.
"See! I told him he was smiling, but he denied it! This is it, Casey! I have independent confirmation that you are smiling about something."
"I'm not. I'm just a happy guy. I'm just generally optimistic and I smile to demonstrate that."
"He is a generally happy guy, Dana," Natalie said.
"True, but this is not a general happy smile. This is a specific happy smile. I come in and Danny leaves and Casey is grinning from ear too-- "
"You did something with DAN!" Natalie shrieked, pointing.
"I did not!" Casey said, but he knew it was hopeless. He might have gotten away with the smile, but he was blushing now. He might as well have written "I kissed Dan Rydell" on his forehead.
"You did?" Dana asked.
"He did!" Natalie crowed.
Casey sighed. "I did."
"And?" Natalie asked.
"And? And what?"
"Casey, you can't just do something with Dan and let it go like that." Natalie said.
"I'm not--I'm . . . should I be talking about this with you?"
"Casey, Dan is in a fragile spot right now," Dana said, nodding. "Remember Rebecca?"
"And he's in therapy," Natalie added.
"I know he's in therapy, Natalie. I'm his best friend."
"Look, Casey, we're just saying that Dan's had some tough times lately, and he doesn't need his heart broken again."
"Yeah, Natalie, I remember you bringing that point home a few days ago."
"Methodology aside, Casey, I meant it. If this is just some fling with you, you better stop it right now."
"Methodology? You call a slap in the face a methodology?"
"It worked, didn't it?"
"Casey, we know you mean well, but really, Danny--"
"Why doesn't anyone care how I feel about this?" Casey asked, flopping into the chair. "Haven't I had bad luck with women? Haven't I been divorced? When you prick me, do I not bleed?"
Dana and Natalie exchanged looks, and burst into laughter.
"When you prick him?" Dana gasped.
"Prick!" Natalie cried.
"Okay, okay!" Casey scowled. "You know what I mean."
"No, Casey," Dana said, swiping her fingers under her eyes for mascara smudges. "No, you don't."
"I do too."
"Look, sweetie." She rubbed his arm with her hand. "You're a sensitive guy, you are, but you aren't Dan. Just decide what you want, and let him know, okay?"
"Okay," she said. "Now about this guy Thomas--"
"Who's on the phone," Natalie said.
"--who's on the phone. I want you to get him to agree to . . . "
After that, Casey was on the phone with Thomas Jensen, who it turned out, was probably going to be the next hot young pitcher in the major leagues and who was understandably pissed at being put on hold for ten minutes listening to the same Bach riff repeat every thirty seconds. Casey didn't try to explain why.
And then there was the run down, and the usual wardrobe, make-up, hair, and then the show, and Casey felt like he only saw Dan from a distance, but every time he saw him, Dan seemed to have an idiotic grin on his face.
"So, how you doing?" Casey asked, tap tap tapping his paper on the desk in the minutes before the show started.
"Good. I'm doing good," Dan said.
"Good." Casey nodded. "Good to hear."
"Hey, Danny," Casey said.
Casey leaned over the desk and put his lips close to Dan's ear. "I think I have a crush on you," he whispered.
Dan smiled. "You're such a woman," he whispered back.
"And once again, ladies and gentlemen," Kim's voice purred in Casey's ear, "the talent forgets that they wear mikes."
Dave made kissing noises that sounded particularly lewd and close-up in his earpiece. Elliot was hunched over, laughing silently, tears leaking from his eyes.
"Who won the pool?" Jeremy asked.
"Okay, okay, people. Casey, if you're done coming on to your co- anchor?" Dana said.
"I'm done." Casey sat up straight, composing himself. Dan was doing the same thing, although his eyes still sparkled with unshed laughter. Game face.
"In five, four . . . "
"Good evening, I'm Dan Rydell, alongside Casey McCall, who has a desperate crush on me, not that I blame him. Speaking of crushes, we've got Detroit smashing Cincinnati and New York pulverizing Phoenix . . . "