Originally published April 17, 2018.
This story is a pure romance. It has no weight gain, not even any vanilla erotic scenes like One Night at the Beach House, previously my only story with no gaining elements. It’s also a story that has haunted me for a year-and-a-half now, and one that I had to write to let it go.
This story was inspired by a Junkrat/Roadhog fanfic called When the Dust Settles. I’m a big fan of the Junkrat/Roadhog ship, because I’m a fan of any ship that involves a chubby guy and another guy. But this fanfic in particular stuck with me because I love the image of a barista being so awestruck by his hefty customer that he’s like a deer in headlights, and all he can do is look up and say, “Big.” And the customer, taking it in stride, says “Yeah,” and walks out.
So of course I read the fic, and I remember enjoying it. But then at the beginning of chapter three, the author says, “You thought this was going to be a fluffy fun fic, didn’t you? You were wrong.” And being that I was really enjoying the fluffy fun fic we’d gotten up to that point, that made me lose all interest in reading it.
And then idea came: write a story that starts with a scene like the one described above, but actually stays a fluffy fun fic. I tried to write that story several times over the next year-and-a-half, and only now have I finally succeeded. This story follows the awkward barista Jason, based on Jamison “Junkrat” Fawkes, and the unflappable construction worker Marko, based on Mako “Roadhog” Rutledge, as they try to make it work after Jason is so awestruck by Marko that while passing him his coffee, he can only say, “Big,” to which Marko replies, “Yeah.”
“Jason, I needed that latte five minutes ago!” Tina shouted.
With his eyes nearly bulging out of his head, Jason glared at the steamer as if eye contact might make it do its job faster. After having made the mistake of pouring dairy milk in the soy pitcher, and having to take the time to wash that out satisfactorily, he’d already put the entire staff behind several drinks. But he finally had the right milk in the right pitcher, and steamed it until it was ready to go in it’s cup. He then steamed it a bit longer, as the espresso had certainly cooled by then, and the heat of the milk would have to make up for it.
Jason normally tried to make some sort of latte art when he poured the milk, something to show that extra attention being paid to the job. But with so much time lost cleaning out the soy pitcher, he was forced to just pour the milk into the cup, resulting in an uninspired brown surface speckled with irregular white spots. Maybe it would appeal to a fan of abstract expressionism. “Latte for Heidi!” Jason called out before crumpling up the order slip. “Sorry for the wait,” he said more quietly as a woman approached the counter.
“No worries,” she assured him, before looking in the cup, at which point her smile seemed to fade just a bit. Apparently she wasn’t a Jackson Pollock fan.
It was far from the first such mistake Jason had made during a rush, but most of them were less time-consuming to fix. After lying through his teeth about his ability to keep calm under pressure, the cracks were starting to show in his first few days on the job. Sure, everyone struggled when they started the job, especially during a rush. But Jason was always sure he was one slip-up away from his boss realizing what a bad decision it had been to hire him and letting him go. Why did he even apply for this job anyway? Other than needing to keep a roof over his head.
But when Jason could spare some time to look out the windows and across the street, it all felt worth it. Across the street, the city had just started construction on a new condo building, and the company that had taken up the contract employed many guys of varying degrees of heft. Except for when they broke for lunch or for the evening, Jason could generally count on looking out the windows and seeing some sort of eye candy. Some were like the fun-size candy bars that got passed out at Halloween, while others were the king-size candy bars that left Jason wondering who bought those for themselves, but Jason appreciated them all.
After passing the art elitist her latte, Jason took a break to stare out the window and see what candy was there for the browsing. To his joy, he saw his favorite of all the workers, the several-pounds jumbo chocolate bar of the bunch. He didn’t know the man’s name, but he knew him when he saw him.
The man of Jason’s dreams had jet black hair just long enough to be put up in a stubby ponytail sticking out from the back of the top of his head. He always wore sunglasses on the site, regardless of whether the sun was out, and tinted safety goggles when the job required those. His cleanly shaven face showed off pudgy cheeks and a double chin ample enough to shake when he handle power tools.
Of course, it wasn’t the only part of him that did. Sure, his rugged arms, built with the strength required to do his job, held fast against a power drill or bandsaw’s vibrations. The same could not be said for his chest or belly, the both of which were plenty flabby to jiggle when he walked, let alone handled machinery. And Jason had a hard time picking one to watch, as the straps of his black tank top showed off plenty of his chest, while the tight fit meant his belly frequently peeked out of the bottom, showing of more of the man’s olive-toned skin. His belly was an especially favorite of Jason’s, overshadowing the bellies of all of his teammates with a few inches to spare. It was wider than his shoulders, stuck out a good foot-and-a-half from the front of his chest, and was so round that it looked like it had been blown up like a beach ball.
With a lengthy sigh, Jason took one last look at the man before turning around to return to his job, picking up the next order slip to start the next drink. By the time the morning rush ended, Jason was relieved to have not made any more major errors. With some time to breathe, he looked across the street again to see whom he might spot. He saw a few guys sporting reasonably impressive bellies, but not his Adonis come to life. But he enjoyed the view that he got, before grabbing a rag to go wipe down tables.
The lunch rush came sooner than it felt like it should have, with Jason once again contending with orders and directions coming in at a pace he could barely keep up with. But he did his best, and soon found himself getting into a groove as the drinks came in. He still made some mistakes, but with his groove allowing him a bit more space to be mindful of his work, they were fewer and farther between. Even his coworkers seemed to notice, with the second-newest hire Jessie saying, “See? You’re getting the hang of it.” And he was, whipping up drinks and passing them out so quickly he didn’t even have time to spare to look across the street. And for once, he didn’t feel like he needed to.
But Jason’s groove was halted in its tracks by, of all things, a large black coffee to-go.
Why Evana hadn’t poured it herself when she rung the customer up was beyond Jason, but if it meant he could get another customer in and out with little effort, he was happy to take it. Grabbing a paper cup, he filled it near the top, capped it, grabbed the receipt, and called out, “Large black coffee to-go for…” And then he looked up.
Jason had no idea when he’d walked in, or how he hadn’t noticed his favorite flavor of eye candy standing by the counter the entire time. All he knew was that here, in front of him, staring him in the eye, was his modern-day Adonis, the man of his dreams that made all the other nights’ dreams seem mundane.
Up close, Jason could see the rough stubble accentuating the roundness of his facial features. He could see just how much room around him the man’s belly required, forcing other customers to the side as he claimed his space. His muscular arms were decorated with a smattering of hair clearly meant to cover more lithe limbs. And with his sunglasses folded and hanging from the center of his tank top, Jason could look into his eyes. His tired yet resolute eyes, brown and richer in color the the most finely ground coffee beans, worn out from his day so far but ready to keep going once he could finally separate his coffee from Jason’s shakey, clenched hand.
Immediately Jason’s fingers sprang open, releasing the man’s drink, and Jason stepped back, his wide-open eyes and agape mouth managing to hide just how embarrassed and ashamed he was. “Big”? Not the man’s name? Not “sir”? Not even “you”? Just “Big”, like some kind of mouth-breathing simpleton not far removed from his Neanderthal ancestors. In one simple word, he’d managed to forget his training, his professionalism, his etiquette, even his basic interpersonal skills, and called the guy by his simplest observable characteristic. Jason wanted to hide under the counter and shrink until he was the exact opposite of the word that had just spurted from his mouth, like the drooling cretin he was.
The second it took the man to react were agonizing centuries for Jason, who flagellated himself for his faux pax more than his boss possibly could. He was ready to walk out of the coffeeshop so he never had to face his boss, his coworkers, any customers who might have overheard him, and especially the man himself ever again. He braced for the worst as the man’s eyes remained locked on his own, a gaze so intense Jason couldn’t look away.
What he didn’t expect was for the man’s eyebrows to slowly rise up above his widening eyes, before they came back down and a smirk spread across his face. After reaching forward to take his coffee, he looked into Jason’s eyes, his lips stretched ever so subtly into a smile, and with a voice that conveyed assuredness and amusement, he declared…
And he turned around to walk out of the coffeeshop, the crowd parting for him without a second thought. Though his stay had been agonizingly long, his exit was excruciatingly short, giving Jason no time to come back to his senses and apologize. All he could do was watch with his jaw still on the floor until the man was out of the door and, assumedly, back to work.
It was more than Jason could do. He stood with his feet glued to the spot, eyes locked on the door even as the crowd filled in the space left by his beloved’s departure. The man’s gorgon stare had left Jason statuesque as he tried to process everything that had just happened. Between the man’s smile and his simple answer of “Yeah,” Jason felt like he was only left with more questions, all of them too intimidating to put into words.
“Uh, Jason? You okay over there?”
Jessie’s words shook Jason from his daze enough for him to look down at the order slip he held in his hand, unused. “Marko,” he mumbled to himself, far too late to say instead of “Big”. “Marko” he repeated, as if he might call out to the man for forgiveness for his blunder and try to appeal for a second chance to make a first impression. After letting out another sigh, he crumpled up the order slip and tossed it in the trash with all the others. At least, he tried; his shaking fingers fumbled the shot, and as a result, it landed next to the barrel.
Looking to the side, Jason saw Jessie looking at him with concern in her eyes, trying and mostly failing to hide a smirk. “I, uh…” Somehow the man had left Jason just as speechless in his absence as his presence. With a sigh, he looked down, looking back up at Jessie with his hand dragging down his face, pointer and ring finger dragging down his eyelids. “I mean, how do you recover from that?”
Jessie covered her mouth as she turned to the side, trying and very much failing to hide her amusement. “I mean, what am I supposed to say? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone get tongue-tied quite like that before.”
“Tongue-tied would have been better,” Jason lamented with his head hung low.
“Well… you definitely gave him a story to tell his buddies at work.” Jessie’s words were slow and choppy, like she was making up a script as she went along. “And I don’t think he seemed hurt, so there’s that.”
“Yeah, that’s my biggest accomplishment today: not hurting a customer’s feelings. Really great job I’m doing,” Jason said sarcastically.
“Hey, we need both of you making drinks, not having couple’s therapy over there,” Tina chimed in from behind Jessie. She was one of the older employees there, and usually the kind who stayed out of other people’s conversations. With her intervening, both Jaeson and Jessie snapped back into work mode and got back to playing their expected rolls.
The two remained standing next to each other as they worked, giving Jessie the opportunity to continue, “Listen, you didn’t do anything wrong by having the hots for a customer. It happens. But you keep that to yourself and tell your friends about it later. There’s no appropriate way to express that.”
“Good advice,” Tina murmured just loudly enough for the two to hear.
“I know, I know,” Jason insisted. “And usually I would never. But this guy… h-h-he just caught me off guard, and I didn’t know what to say.”
“You say their order, the word “for”, and their name. The two variable ones are found on the order slip. It’s easy.”
Another sigh escaped Jason’s mouth as he felt like he was being talked down to. “I know!” he insisted loudly. “Look, odds are, I’ll never see another man as handsome as him in here, especially since I just blew my first impression with him,” he added grumpily. “I promise I’ll be more professional from now on.”
“But what if he does come back? Are you just going to stand there like a deer in headlights again?”
“He won’t,” Jason insisted, feeling like he was trying to convince himself more than Jessie. “He won’t.”
He did. And during another lunch rush, of all times. There he was, standing by the door because the line extended that far back, waiting patiently for his turn. He didn’t make eye contact with Jason, keeping his eyes on the line ahead of him. But Jason was still too nervous to face the apple of his eye. After finishing the mocha he was working on, he snuck past his team to the cash register, where his boss was taking orders.
“Hey, Caro? I think I should head in the back and do inventory.”
Looking over his glasses, Caro gave Jason a look that made him immediately regret asking to abandon his station. “Jason, I know you’re not dumb enough to think you’re more useful to us back there than out here during a rush. If you need a break, you can step into the employee area for a bit, but I would really, really prefer you don’t right now.” With his final few words, the confidence in Caro’s voice had melted into outright pleading, something Jason didn’t feel at liberty to say no to. With a nod, he turned around and slipped back to his station.
By the time he got back, Marko was already closer to where Jason stood behind the counter, making Jason’s hands shake even more as he took the next order slip from the line. Okay, Americano. He could do that. Keeping the steps listed in his head, he went through the process slowly, deliberately, trying to make sure his nerves didn’t mess him up. And to his relief, they didn’t, as after what felt like an agonizing few minutes, he had the drink in hand, ready to call out. He placed the cup on the counter and reached into his pocket to pull out the order slip, trying to pretend Marko wasn’t standing just a few feet away, a distance he made look puny.
Marko’s voice was smoother than the richest of hot chocolates. His tone was one of greeting, saying the antonym of the name Jason had given him as if it were Jason’s own. Looking up, slowly, as if he didn’t want to see what expression Marko might have been making, Jason saw a flat mouth and inexpressive eyes. Until the two made eye contact, at which Marko’s mouth spread ever so slightly into a smile.
“Heh…” Jason said, looking down at the drink in his hand for a few seconds, before he could work up the courage to say, “Um, listen, Marko… sorry about yes–” But when Jason looked up, he saw that the line had moved ahead, with Marko now standing out of earshot of Jason’s timid apology. “Dammit,” he whispered under his breath, before he looked down at the order slip. “Americano for William!”
Jason carried on making the next few drinks, occasionally looking up at Marko but mostly accepting that he’d blown his shot. Every glance Marko’s way was followed by a sigh, an expression of frustration and wistfulness, before Jason looked back down to whatever drink he was working on. He got through a few orders that way, as Marko moved steadily closer to the front of the line. As he payed, Jason took one last yearning look, this one long enough that he made himself uncomfortable, before picking up an order slip for the next drink.
Matcha lattes required Jason to stare at the wall the entire time he made them, due to where the supplies were situated. So when he finished the next drink, he was surprised to see Marko standing right by where Jadon usually stood, facing his way but mostly gazing off into the figurative distance. Surprised, but ready, as he pulled out the order slip and put the drink on the counter. “Matcha latte for Stephanie!” he read, before tossing the slip and moving onto the next one.
Resuming his usual spot, Jason stood with only the counter separating him from Marko. But he kept silent, retaining a stoic façade as Marko did himself. It was probably for the best he didn’t say anything, and just got back down to work.
The greeting was casual, off-hand, as Marko probably greeted anyone he passed by on the street. Looking up Jason saw Marko nearly tilting his head over his shoulder to make eye contact. Once their eyes met, Marko gave Jason a subdued nod, something that probably came standard with his greetings.
“Hey,” Jason returned, giving Marko a nod back, and telling himself to leave it at that. Just leave it at that. “Um, Marko, listen…” But of course his tongue was leakier than a paper cup with the cap’s sip hole put over the seem. “Sorry about yester–”
“How do you know my name?” Marko interjected. Jason immediately felt like a deer in headlights being put on the spot, with the conversation already not going like how he’d imagined it would go in the days since their first encounter. But Marko’s tone wasn’t accusatory, and when Jason finally looked him in the eyes, his expression was one of genuine confusion.
“Oh, it, uh, said on the drink slip last time you were here. They all say the customer names, in case two people order the same thing, so we can call out the name of that person in particular.”
“Or just their most notable characteristic,” Marko pointed out.
At once, Jason froze. He could feel the heat emanating from his cheeks as they became red, something he instinctively tried to hide by looking down at the drink he was working on, before his eyes pointed to the left, as far away from Marko as they could get.
“Hey, come on, now,” Marko implored as he turned his whole body to face Jason. Seeing Marco’s massive belly head on only made Jason more flustered, but Marko’s words were enough to get him to lift his head up. “You think I’m going to hold it against you or something? You’re right: I am big! Kinda hard to hide it at my size,” Marko chuckled
Marko’s laugh caused his rounded belly to bounce up and down, forcing Jason to try very, very, very hard to look Marko in the eyes and not stare at his gut. Instead he chuckled along with him, and forced his eyes to stay locked with Marko’s. “Heh, well, glad I didn’t, um… offend you, I guess.”
“Nah,” Marko replied as he waved his hand dismissively. “Just pointing out facts? Not going to hurt my feelings.”
“Right. Well, I better get back to work, or I’ll hold up your drink,” Jason concluded with a smile, for once, feeling like he’d finally said something he wouldn’t regret later than night.
“Well wait a minute,” Marko said, causing Jason to halt in his tracks. “You robbed me of my chance to introduce myself to you, and you’re not even going to tell me your name? How is that fair?”
Still a little nervous, Jason extended his hand over the counter with his best fake confident smile. “I’m Jason.”
With a more relaxed smile, Marko extended his own hand toward Jason, allowing Jason to observe the black nail polish that adorned Marko’s fingernails. For working in construction, it was remarkable how little the polish had chipped. Marko took Jason’s hand in his own giant paw, wrapping his calloused yet warm fingers around Jason’s more nimble, colder digits and his clammy palm. “Nice you meet you, Jason.”
“Guess I’ll see you around?”
“I’ll be here. Although if you came some time other than the lunch rush, I wouldn’t be so occupied.”
“Mmm, I would if I could choose the time of my lunch break.”
With another sigh, Jason conceded, “Yeah.” After another pause, he stammered, “I, uh, I really need to start on these drinks.
But before he could, Tina stepped in and reminded him, “You better wash your hands before you handle anything.”
“Wh–Right, yes, will do.” Sneaking past the team, Jason made his way to the sink and washed away whatever mess Marko might’ve gotten on his hands. As he dried them, he let out a happy sigh knowing his hands had touched Marko’s, like a courteous handshake constituted holding hands as they walked down the street, casually kissing each other. It was certainly farther than Jason thought he’d get with this guy. Anything beyond that was a pleasant surprise.
And after a few more drinks were made, Jason got the first pleasant surprise: Marko’s order slip was next in line. With a nervous smile, Jason kept the slip in hand as he grabbed a large paper cup and filled it nearly to the top with dark roast. Returning to his usual spot on the counter, Jason found Marko waiting with his usual neutral expression. But Jason had an idea for how to coax a smile out of him. After making eye contact, Jason lowered his voice so only he and Marko could hear him:
“Large to-go coffee for the big guy.”
Marko’s mouth remained flat as he maintained eye contact with Jason, his expressionless face conveying more “not amused” vibes than Jason had gotten from all the disciplinarians in his life. His eyebrows rose just enough to convey disbelief, while his dour look distilled that disbelief into disappointment, before it dropped off the flat sides of his mouth like the bitterest of espresso.
And Jason was forced to drink it all. He knew flirting with customers was against company policy, and now he’d broken that policy in such an obvious and unambiguous way. All this time, he thought he’d get fired when his boss found out he doesn’t react well under pressure. Turns out it was his social awkwardness that was waiting to do him in the whole time.
After the longest two seconds of Jason’s life thus far, Marko’s mouth bloomed into a smile as a deep, hearty laugh escaped from inside. In the time it took Jason to become thoroughly confused by Marko’s reaction and not sure what to think, Marko turned toward him and said, “You’re gutsier than I had you figured for.” Rather than just take his coffee, he leaned in to rest his forearms in the counter, while his right hand wrapped around the coffee. “If I may be so bold,” he asked quietly, “and you don’t have to answer this if I may not. But what time does your shift end?”
Jason’s eyelids shot open faster than spilled coffee splattering across the floor. His own mouth took on a flat expression, immediately forgetting how to form any of the words he’d ever spoken in his life. He must have looked like a deer in headlights, as the smile on Marko’s face faded before he stood up straight, retreating from the counter. Without a word, he nodded, looking disappointed but like he accepted what he thought was the answer he’d gotten.
Just as he turned to walk away, Jason found his vocabulary again and stumbled toward the counter. “W-w-wait!” he called out, stopping Marko in his tracks and causing him to turn around. “Y-yes. Yes,” he stated determinedly, before wondering why Marko was looking at him confusedly. Until he shook his head side to side, like shaking off the cobwebs, and continued. “I mean, four. Four o’clock.”
With a grin, Marko commented, “You’re adorable.” Leaning in closer, he told Jason, “I usually get off around then. Maybe a bit later depending on how busy we are. But if I have time today, I’ll swing by again,” he promised with a smile.
“That’d be great!” Jason said with what felt like a little bit too much enthusiasm. But Marko seemed to respond well, giving Jason another smile before he walked out of the coffeeshop. For a moment, Jason stood still and watched him go, his own smile growing wider as the reality of what had just happened sunk in.
The rest of Jason’s shift could not have passed more slowly, especially after the lunch rush ended and he had the afternoon lull to contend with. Even the after-school mini rush wasn’t enough to take his mind off of whatever might happen at the end of his shift. And it seemed he wasn’t being subtle about it.
“Nervous?” Jessie asked during a lull after the after-school mini rush.
With a chuckle, Jessie tilted her head and said, “Come on, you think I wasn’t watching you the whole time you talked to Marko and silently cheering you on?”
Jason looked to the side with an awkward smile. “Well…”
“Why do you think I left you Marko’s slip instead of making it myself?”
Again, Jason could barely conjure the words to answer the question, pursing his lips and shrugging.
“I mean, I would have loved to make an easy drink like that, but I knew you’d do a better job of it.”
“Of what,” Jason chuckled, “pouring coffee?”
“Of taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Jason let out another chuckle, this one more self-effacing, as he tilted his head down and leaned back farther against the counter. “He said he’ll come back when my shift ends, so I guess I did something right.”
“Hey, you did plenty right,” Jessie said in her most sincere tone since the start of the conversation. “I’m really happy for you. And I hope tonight is amazing.”
“Me too,” Jason said, before taking his station again at the sight of a group of customers walking in.
4:00 PM came, and Jason made himself a hot chocolate, putting it in a to-go cup in case Marko didn’t want to stick around. With no sign of him, Jason sat down and pulled out his phone, browsing his socials but not getting too invested in any one site, since he knew Marko could arrive at any time.
4:05 PM. Jason was starting to get nervous, but he had to remind himself that for most people, five minutes late barely registered as tardy. Plus, he and Marko hadn’t exchanged any sort of contact info, so there was no way for Marko to contact him if he had to stay late at work. After all, Marko had said he usually gets off around 4:00, possibly later if they were busy. And if he needed a large coffee, they were probably busy.
4:10 PM. Jason was sure that he’d messed everything up. Hitting on a customer was a terrible idea, no matter how Marko seemed to receive it. And calling him by his name… Jason knew how much he didn’t like it when people he’d never introduced himself to called him by his name thanks to his nametag. And he was used to it because it happened so often. That had to have put Marko off. No wonder he’d only told Jason he was going to meet him after work out of pity, and then felt no compunction about abandoning him.
4:15 PM. “You’re overreacting.”
The simplicity of Jessie’s text was like a breath of a fresh air and a slap in the face at the same time. In other words, it was exactly what Jason needed. After taking a few deep breaths, he texted her back, “Yeah, I do that a lot.”
“Who even gets off at 4:00? He was probably being optimistic. Just wait it out and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
4:30 PM. Jessie was definitely not right. How could Marko have just left Jason hanging like that? He could have called the coffeeshop and asked someone to pass along a message to the poor, lonely barista sitting at a table by himself, quietly scrolling his feeds and wondering what he did wrong to drive that man away. It was the least he could do if he was going to leave him hanging like that.
4:32 PM. Calling the coffeeshop to pass along a message like that would have been a gross misuse of the shop’s phone line. There was no way Marko would do that if he were an at all reasonable person.
4:45 PM. Jason sat at his table with his back hunched over and a somber look on his face. He repeatedly picked up his empty paper cup and lifted it barely a half-inch above the table, before letting it fall and make a quiet noise as it hit the wood. It was marginally better than checking the same four apps over and over and over again, only to get one or two new posts between all four of them each round. He considered texting Jessie for another reality check, but didn’t want to bother her.
4:58 PM. The door to the coffeeshop opened and Jason heard some heavy footsteps approach him rather than the counter. Looking up, he was met with the sight of a massive belly filling out a black tank top. He let his eyes linger on that sight a bit longer than he should have, before he remembered the rules of basic decency and looked up. It was Marko, looking back at him with a sheepish smile. “Hey,” he greeted quietly.
“Hey!” Jason returned with enough enthusiasm for the both of them.
With a lengthy sigh, Marko continued, “I’m really sorry I’m so late. Work kept us later than usual to make sure we met a milestone today, and…” With a frustrated noise somewhere between a sigh and a grunt, Marko put his hand over his face before dragging it off slowly, leaving it lingering over his mouth for a moment before he let it drop. “I didn’t think you’d still be here. I thought for sure you’d have gotten impatient and gone home. I’m… I’m really happy to see you.”
“Well… what can I say?” Jason asked, genuinely unsure what to say. “You’re here now. I think that makes the wait worth it.”
Marko’s head was still tilted down, but after he looked up to meet Jason’s gaze, his mouth curled into just enough of a smile that Jason felt like he’d said the right thing for once. “Well,” Marko said with a shrug, “why don’t we head somewhere else? Since… you’re still here… I want to make tonight worth your wait. And… I can’t imagine you relish the thought of sticking around your workplace longer than I’ve already made you.”
With a chuckle, Jason looked up at Marko with a relieved smile, possibly the first time he’d felt any sort of relief that day. “I’d be happy to go somewhere else. Where did you have in mind?”
“Let’s walk and talk about it,” Marko said as he motioned toward the door. With a nod, Jason stood up, still left breathless by the close-to-a-head of height that Marko had on him. After throwing away his cup, Jason followed Marko out of the shop. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets, and his sunglasses back on his face, Marko turned around to face Jason. “So, are you hungry now, or would you rather walk around a bit first?”
As nervous and excited as Jason was, he had no idea whether he was hungry or not. “Mmm, what would you prefer?”
“I could go either way. I had a big lunch on the job today, so I’m fine with waiting for dinner. That said, unsurprisingly, I could pretty much always go for a meal,” Marko chuckled before giving his massive belly a few hearty pats.
Jason tried to play it off and act casual, laughing a little as he looked at Marko’s belly and trying to not let his eyes linger too long. “I think I could stand to go for a walk before we grab something to eat.”
“I’m game,” Marko said with a smile. “Come on, there’s a park this way that we can walk around for a while.”
As the two started walking, Jason had to consciously keep his eyes looking ahead of him, occasionally looking at Marko’s sunglasses like a sort of eye contact, before defaulting back to watching the path ahead of them. Otherwise, the allure of Marko’s constantly bouncing belly would be too difficult to resist. Although after watching him pat his own belly proudly, Jason wondered just how much Marko would really mind.
“So, how did you become a barista?” Marko asked.
“It’s not a very exciting story. After I graduated and couldn’t find a job in my field, I widened my job search to anyone who would employ me. And Caro was willing to give me a chance.”
“Caro being your boss?”
“Yeah, sorry. How about you? I imagine it isn’t as easy to get a job in construction.”
With a self-effacing laugh, Marko said, “It’s not as glamorous as you seem to think. You need to be physically able to do the job, sure, but if you aren’t, you get weeded out pretty quickly. Other than that, if you can follow directions, you can do the job.”
“Oh,” was all Jason could say. He’d hoped that Marko’s answer would give him more to keep the conversation going, but an answer like that didn’t give him much to work with.
“What, uh, what’s your field? That you graduated in?”
At that question, Jason’s breath halted. “Promise you won’t laugh?” he asked quietly.
“Why would I laugh?”
“It’s… depressingly stereotypical.”
“Fine arts?” Marko guessed, without a hint of judgement or ridicule in his voice.
At that, Jason felt a little more comfortable sharing: “Almost. History of art.”
“Why would I laugh at that?”
“What’s not to laugh at? I’m a queer, tattooed arts major with hair dyed a reverse ombre, wearing tattered clothes, and working as a barista because I couldn’t get a job in my field. I might as well grow a beard and complete the character.”
“That might not look half bad.” With an unamused expression, Jason looked Marko in the eye–at least, where he thought his eyes were behind his sunglasses. The speed at which Marko’s smile drooped seemed to indicate immediately regret at his comment. “I-I mean… look, you went to college to study something you’re passionate about, instead of going for a degree you didn’t care about to end up in a job you don’t care about just because it pays the bills. That’s laudable. A lot of people aren’t brave enough to do that.”
“If I’d known this is where I’d end up, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough either. I mean, we were the generation raised on, ‘Follow your dreams,’ ‘If you believe it, you can achieve it,’ so I did. And then once I got my degree, the tone suddenly changed to, ‘You’re stupid for going for that,’ ‘How are you going to get a job now?’ It’s like they changed the rules of the game after I’d already played my turn.”
“Hmm,” Marko emoted before looking straight ahead. “You know, I never grew up with ‘Follow your dreams,’ or, ‘If you believe it you can achieve it.’”
“Most brown folks I know didn’t.”
“…ah,” Jason responded, quietly taking in that new dose of perspective.
“Not that that stopped me,” Marko continued with a sudden upward shift in his pitch.
“Oh yeah? What did you study.”
With a smile, Marko looked back to Jason and said, “Promise you won’t laugh?”
“Alright, come on,” Jason replied, smiling but still unamused.
“I’m actually being serious,” Marko insisted, losing a bit of his smile to self-consciousness. “You wouldn’t be the first person to laugh at me if you did.”
Marko’s comment left Jason confused as to what could be funny about a field of study, but he stayed on his toes and asked, “Were those people who laughed at you baristas with art history degrees.”
“Heh, fair.” After a long inhalation, Marko finally said, “I was a sculpting major.”
“Why would I laugh at that?” Jason asked, genuinely stumped. “That’s awesome!”
Turning his head to look at Jason, Marko gave him an appreciative smile. “All anyone ever says is that they ‘didn’t expect that answer.’ Maybe they’re not expecting a construction worker to be cultured. Maybe they’re laughing at the fact that I got a fine arts degree and ended up in a field that only requires a high school diploma or G.E.D.”
“Surely there must be some applicability to construction, right?”
“Not as much as you might think. But, it is nice to be able to nab lose scraps of wood from the site before they get thrown away. Saves me a decent sum on materials. Plus, they don’t mind me being a big guy, because I have the strength to back it up, and that has obvious value,” Marko said, before flexing one of his burly arms for Jason.
At that, Jason was nearly struck speechless again. He wanted to tell Marko that he saw plenty of value in his size, how that belly was worth more than any number of engineering degrees. But he knew heaping that much praise on Marko might be inappropriate that early on. Not that he wasn’t going to let a little loose anyway. “I mean, I don’t see anything wrong with you being a big guy, but maybe that’s why I don’t work in construction.”
Yet again, Jason turned to see Marko looking at him with a grateful smile. “You’re adorable, you know that?” Marko said, sounding a bit more sincere than when he’d said it in the coffeeshop.
Jason turned his head down with a smile, scarcely able to handle being complimented by such an awe-inspiringly handsome man. “So, uh… what kind of sculpture do you do?”
“Mostly wood these days, unsurprisingly. I used to do a lot of work with clay, but at the scale I like to sculpt, buying my own clay can get pretty expensive. Sure, I did it for school, but it was easy to justify buying supplies when I was already shelling out so much for tuition. Nowadays? I try to be more frugal.”
“So you like the classics.”
“Heh, you could say that. It’s practically a cliché in sculpture, but I do really like that Michelangelo quote, ‘David was always there in the marble. I just took away everything that was not David.’ Some people read into it like it’s this super-deep meditation on authenticity or simple living. I just like how it describes the sculpture process. When I worked with clay, I used to always start by forming my piece to its general shape and then carving away from there.”
“Sounds like technique better suited for wood or marble.”
“Definitely, although god do I not have the patience to work with marble!” Marko chuckled.
“Heh, fair. So what kind of stuff do you sculpt?”
“Whatever I feel like bringing to life,” Marko answered. “My last piece was a birthday present for a good friend, a life-size sculpture of his dog who’s, uh, getting up there in years. He wanted something to remember her by when she passes.”
“Aw, that’s sweet,” Jason beamed with a huge smile.
“Mmm, that was a gratifying piece. Once it was done, I brought it to a painter friend of mine to finish so it would really be in the dog’s likeness. My buddy really appreciated the end product.”
“What breed was the dog?”
“Bernese mountain dog.”
Jason’s head jerked back before he said, “That must’ve taken you a long time if it was life size!”
“What can I say, he’s that good of a friend. And she’s a good dog. That definitely made it even more fun to do. Although seeing her confusion when he received it was pretty priceless,” he chuckled.
“So… you sculpted a life-size sculpture of a dog that big… with scrap wood from a construction site?”
“It required fastening a lot of pieces together. That’s the basis of all of my sculptures these days. Thankfully, dried wood glue carves about as well as wood itself as long as you carve it at the right time.”
“And that’s enough to hold them all together?”
“I have some other techniques for helping them hold. Trade secrets,” Marko told him with a smile.
“I imagine the paint would just cover the seams anyway.”
“Actually, the paint was special for my buddy’s gift. Usually I leave the wood and glue exposed.”
“I mean, wood grain is beautiful on its own, and I think there’s something… profound about leaving the seams where the pieces meet exposed. The juxtaposition of the gridline of the seams and the natural shape of the final sculpture. It’s like… we all have different pieces that make up who we are, you know? And maybe they don’t come together in way that compliments the final piece, but that doesn’t mean the whole can’t be beautiful. Just like people, or like life, you know?”
Jason could only look back at Marko and smile. Of all the things he thought might happen when he and Marko met, good or bad, hearing an artistic statement of intent was not one of them.
“Sorry, I’ll shut up now.”
“No!, no!, are you kidding? That’s the kind of stuff I live for! That’s why I got into art history in the first place!”
Marko let out another chuckle before he said, “I don’t think my work is of any historical significance, but thanks for the praise.”
“No, what I mean is… The reason I got into art history is because I’m fascinated by what art says about the culture that made it. Sure, if you read newspaper articles, magazines, old books and manuscripts, you find out what people thought their culture was. But you look at their art, and you can really see what they value, what they want to commemorate, what was important to them. You find out things they wouldn’t admit about their own culture, or maybe things they didn’t know about themselves. So, artistic meaning, and intent, what compelled the artist to create a piece the way they did, that’s my jam!”
Jason wasn’t sure how to interpret the raised eyebrows and modest smile Marko looked at him with, with the sunglasses hiding his eyes. He didn’t have much time to, though, before Marko looked forward with his head bowed down. “I wonder what you’d conclude about me based on my pieces.”
“If you ever want to show them to me, I’d be happy to see them. And I promise I won’t psychoanalyze you,” Jason said, bumping Mark’s arm with the back of his hand. “I just want to see your hard work.”
“Alright,” Marko said, looking up with a smile. “Maybe you’ll let me see some of your work too?”
“The papers I wrote for my classes? I mean, if you want to…” Jason offered sarcastically, coaxing a laugh out of both men.
“You study art but don’t make any yourself?” Marko asked.
“I didn’t have time! Outside of when an elective required it, I didn’t have time to make art while I was in school. And I only got this job a few weeks ago; I was too stressed out by the job hunt to make art before, and now… I just haven’t found a good time work on it. But, I mean, I want to.”
“So what would you make if you were making art?”
“Definitely something abstract. Stuff like Jackson Pollock.”
“The guy who threw paint at the canvas?”
“Yeah,” Jason chuckled, “But more intentional. Make it as hard to read meaning into my own art as possible, and just… let myself get out whatever needs to get out.” Marko had a smile on his face as he listened to Jason talk, before Jason admitted, “Problem is, art supplies are expensive.”
“It sounds like you could do that with cheap kids’ art supplies. Then at last you’d have an artistic outlet.”
“Yeah… maybe that’s what I’ll try, until I have some money saved up, and can buy better supplies.”
“Maybe then you’ll let me see some of your hard work.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Jason affirmed with raised eyebrows and a smile.
Marko didn’t feel comfortable going into a sit-down restaurant wearing a tank top, and didn’t have a more complete shirt to throw on top of it, limiting the two’s options for dinner. They settled on a pizza place that Marko assured Jason had really good food for the kind of greasy establishment it was, to which Jason assured Marko he wasn’t picky. The two left once they’d both gotten their food, with Jason already having finished his slice of cheese pizza in the time it took them to make Marko’s cheesesteak sub.
By then, the sun had gone down far enough that Marko didn’t need his sunglasses. He and Jason sat on a park bench watching the setting sun shine out its colorful radiance from behind the buildings as Marko ate his dinner. “So how do you get to work?” Marko asked as he neared the end of his sub.
“I walk. It’s 30 minutes, so not too bad.”
“What about in winter?”
“Again, just graduated, so remains to be seen.”
“Actually, I should probably head back soon. I have a morning shift tomorrow that I need to be there pretty early for.”
“Already, huh?” Marko asked, sounding more disappointed than Jason expected.
“Well, I mean…” As Jason struggled to find the words, Marko turned his head to look at him, his eyes looking just as despondent as he sounded. “I’d love to do this again if you would.”
Marko’s face bloomed at hearing those words. His mouth curled into that smile that made Jason feel warm inside, curling so tightly that his eyes were pushed closed even as they looked happier. “That’d be great.”
Jason’s own smile widened as he and Marko looked into each other’s eyes. He’d missed those deep pools hidden by sunglasses for so much of their time together. They were so easy to get lost inside, especially as Marko kept his gaze right on Jason’s own eyes. “Oh, we should exchange phone numbers, before we forget.”
“Heh, yeah, good idea,” Marko concurred as the two pulled out their phones and exchanged information. “Now I won’t have to count on finding you at the coffeeshop during a lunch rush.”
“Well, uh… if you like, I could give you a ride home. If it’s a 30 minute walk, it can’t be that long of a drive.”
“Sure! That’d be great!”
With another squinty smile, Marko pushed himself off of the bench and said, “Come on, my truck is parked this way.”
Jason had never ridden in a pick-up truck before. It was strange to get into a vehicle where he had to slide himself upward to get onto the seat rather than bending down. But it made sense once Jason got inside and saw Marko’s massive gut taking up nearly his entire lap. And yet, there was still a comfortable amount of space between his belly and the steering wheel, a solid few inches that Jason was sure wouldn’t have been there for him in a smaller vehicle. Sure, Marko had to extend his arms nearly straight out to reach the steering wheel, but by the time they got on the road, he seemed comfortable driving that way.
And with Marko’s eyes on the road the whole time, Jason could scarcely take his own eyes off of that belly. He was thankful the route to his apartment was mostly a straight shot with few turns, or else he probably would have missed telling Marko to take most of them. How could he possibly take his eyes off such a perfectly formed, rotund gut, taking up so much of the space in front of Marko that he was forced to sit tall and proud like a king? Watching his belly bounce with every bump in the road only made it harder to move his eyes anywhere else.
But the ride had to come to an end, and though it had been shorter than Jason would have liked, he was glad for chance to ride with Marko and spend a little more time with him. “Is this it?” Marko asked as he pulled up outside of Jason’s apartment.
“Yeah,” Jason affirmed, his tone making no secret of his own disappointment at the night having to come to an end.
The unsatisfied “Mmm” that Marko uttered seemed to indicate that he felt the same way. “I mean, I’m not going to make you get out of my truck, but I do want you to get enough sleep for your shift tomorrow.”
“Heh, that’s awfully kind of you. I wish the people in the apartment below me felt the same way.”
“Mmm,” was all Marko could muster as he looked through the front windshield. “Well… I had a great time tonight,” Marko said with a smile as he looked back Jason. “And I can’t wait until we do this again.”
“You mean that?” Jason asked as he turned to look back at Marko.
Marko’s head moved back just a bit as his eye closed slightly in confusion. “Of course I mean that. Why wouldn’t I mean that?”
“I dunno, I’m just…” Looking out the windshield, Jason continued, “I’m still amazed that someone as handsome as you has any interest in little ol’ me.”
“What? Come on,” Marko replied in drawn-out disbelief. “Do you have any idea how happy I am to have met someone I can talk about art with? Really talk about art with? Someone who doesn’t talk down to me when it comes to art because of my job? And besides…” Marko said, before pausing long enough that Jason looked back at him, causing Marko to return the favor with a nervous smile. “I think your smokey hair, your skull-and-crossed-paint-brushes tattoo, and your lived-in clothes… they suit you.” Lifting his right arm up, Marko patted Jason on the shoulder and said with more confidence, “Insecurity, on the other hand, most certainly does not.”
At Marko’s touch, Jason practically froze. To feel Marko’s warm, heavy hand on his shoulder was the kind of touch that just a few hours ago, Jason didn’t dare dream of. And yet, as he sat with a bit of a hunch in his back and gave Marko a pursed-lipped smile, it didn’t seem too good to be true. “You mean that?” Jason repeated, taking on a deeper tone to indicate he knew Marko did.
With an amused smile, Mark said, “C’mere and give me a hug,” undoing his seatbelt before opening his arms wide. Jason was more than happy to oblige, freeing himself from his belt and practically leaping into Marko’s embrace. He came to rest on top of Marko’s belly, letting his head rest of Marko’s shoulder before wrapping his arms around Marko’s torso, just under his arms. His belly let Jason sink in just a bit before the firm core pushed back against his comparatively miniscule weight. With Marko still stuck in the seat, he couldn’t turn his belly all the way toward Jason, but Jason still felt plenty of its warm, plush surface underneath himself to get quite comfortable.
And then Marko wrapped his arms around Jason. All that burly muscle, padded by warm flab, came to rest around him just enough for Marko to pull him closer. He listened to the quiet “Mmmm” Marko let out as he took Jason in his embrace and rested his head on Jason’s, making Jason feel even warmer inside. And in that moment, Jason knew that any time he described something that made him feel cozy and safe as “like a warm hug”, that would be exactly the hug he would think off.
Jason wasn’t sure how long the hug lasted, somewhere between an eternity and the blink of an eye, simultaneously drawn out as he appreciated every single moment of it and yet still too short. He tried to remind himself there would be more hugs in the two’s future, and yet, he still didn’t want the moment to end. He tried to pull away, lean back into his seat, get out, and say goodbye. But his hands stubbornly fell down to the sides of Marko’s gargantuan belly, refusing to let go and staying planted on Jason’s favorite part of Marko. He even let his fingers dig ever so slightly into Marko’s sides, enjoying his first grasp of the belly he’d admired from afar for so long.
Marko didn’t seem to have the same compunction, as his arms fell off of Jason’s shoulders and back to his sides, before stopping just short Jason’s hands. He looked down with his arms still bent outward, before looking back at Jason with his brow furrowed and his mouth in a frown. “Wh… what are you doing?”
There was no coyness or flirtatious charm in his voice, just genuine confusion mixed with enough displeasure to freeze Jason in place. With his hands still on Marko’s midsection.
“Why are you grabbing my stomach like that?”
“I…” Stomach. The word used by someone who saw nothing erotic or appealing about any attention being giving to his gut. Jason had stepped over the line. A big one. One far worse than flirting with a customer: he’d touched someone in a way they didn’t want to be touched. How could he have been so careless? So lecherous? Such a creep?
He’d ruined the whole night. Just like he knew he would.
With the haste he usually reserved for the busiest of rushes, Jason grabbed the door handle as quickly as he could and blurted out “Sorry” before he bailed out of the car, nearly tripping on the sidewalk as he made a beeline for the stoop of his apartment building. He didn’t look back, didn’t stop to say another word, didn’t even bother to take his keys out of his pocket. The only relief he felt was when he turned the knob on the front door and found that whoever had left before had left it unlocked. Quickly as he could, he opened the door before slamming it shut behind him, locking the deadbolt before he leaned back against the door.
Jason’s heart was pounding loudly enough that he could hear it over the heavy breathing that had his chest swelling in and out like he’d sprinted the entire way home. Putting his face in his hands, he slowly slid down as his legs splayed out in front of him, until his rear end hit the floor with a quiet thud. At that, Jason let his hands uncover his face and just fall down like they should have in the truck. With a sigh, he slowly pushed himself up off the floor to start the climb up the two flights of stairs to his apartment, where he knew he wouldn’t be taking Marko any time soon. Or ever. Ever was more like it.
Back in his apartment, Jason fell on his couch with a lengthy sigh that emptied the entirety of his lungs. He lay there replaying the entire incident in the truck over and over again in his head. Though remembering the hug and Marko’s compliments made him smile, it was all setting him up to come crashing down as he replayed his hands slipping down to Marko’s gut. He remembered grabbing Marko like he was some kind of politician or studio executive or college football player, except Jason would face justice for his actions. And those terrible but entirely deserved words: “What are you doing?”
Why couldn’t he have just kept his hands to himself? Why didn’t he exercise the basic minimum of self-control required to exist in society? How could he have just… just groped Marko like that? He didn’t deserve a guy like Marko. And Marko deserved a hell of a lot better than him.
Jason’s self-deprecation was interrupted by his phone vibrating with an incoming text. Pulling it out, he saw two notifications: one from Marko, which he immediately cleared before he could read it, unwilling and unable to deal with the fallout of his mistake. The other was from Jessie, and from the preview, Jason could read that it simply asked, “How’s it going!?”
With both hands, Jason slowly typed out his response. “It WAS going well. Then I ruined it, like I always do.”
A few moments later: “What!? How?!”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Grr, you can’t leave me hanging like that.” After not replying for a while, instead lying on the couch and feeling terrible, Jason got another text reading, “Point taken. Do you think he’ll be coming into the coffee shop anymore?”
“I doubt it. Surely there must be other places he can go and get coffee where he won’t have to see me.” And after a bit more time, “It’s a shame. We seemed to be getting along well. But of course it was too good to last.”
“Will you at least tell me more about it next shift?”
With a contorted mouth, Jason answered, “Maybe,” before letting his arm fall limp and his phone land on his stomach.
It wasn’t long before Jessie finished the conversation by saying, “Go get some sleep. It’ll help.”
Indeed, once Jason got up from the couch, he realized he was feeling rather tired. And since he had to be at work the next day, he figured he’d be in better control of his emotions if he got a good night’s rest. Whether he could do that was another question, but at least he’d feel better lying in his bed. It might still have had only one person in it, but at least it would be more comfortable than the couch.
Jason was lucky enough to have a slow morning the next day without much of a breakfast rush to speak of. A few regulars came in and set up with their laptops to work all morning or longer, and his shift was peppered with miscellaneous groups and individuals. But overall, the morning didn’t ask much of him. Which was a good thing, because he didn’t have much to offer. He moved at a slower pace all day, making drinks with the lackadaisical effort of a high school hire on their first week.
And it seemed it was showing. “You alright, Jason?” Tina asked in between customers.
“Oh… I’m… just not feeling well,” Jason answered vaguely.
“If that’s the case, you should have called in sick. We can’t have you spreading your germs to the customers.”
“No, it’s… not that kind of not feeling well.”
“Well what kind is it, then?”
“The non-contagious kind, don’t worry.”
After a brief pause, Tina spoke more quietly and told Jason, “It’s not just our customers I worry about, you know.”
Jason looked up at Tina with eyebrows raised in surprise, before looking back down at the drink he was working on. How could he tell her that he appreciated her concern, but didn’t feel comfortable telling a coworker, especially one so much his senior, about his boy troubles?
“I just can’t help but notice when you go from really seeming to get the hang of things around here to moving like this is all new to you.”
“I’ll be okay, Tina. I promise,” Jason assured her, not sure whom he was trying to convince.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to convince Jessie, who came in a half hour early and gave Jason a knowing look before she sat down at one of the tables.
“Hey Tina? I’m going to take a quick break while things are still quiet.”
Against his expectations, Tina gave Jason a nod as he walked around from behind the counter and sat down with Jessie. He slouched in his chair, put his arms on the table, and buried his face in them.
“Morning, sunshine,” Jessie greeted half-heartedly, causing Jason to groan from within the muffling confines of his arm. “Do you still not want to talk about it?”
“I don’t know,” Jason mumbled again, before withdrawing his head from the wall he’d created and slouching in his chair. “I guess it can’t do much harm at this point. Other than make you see me the way Marko must see me now.”
“And do we know for certain he sees you in an entirely bad light?” she asked, prompting Jason to look at her with lowered eyelids and raised eyebrows. “Because everything you’ve told me so far has been about you, how you ruined the night, how you don’t expect him to come back because then he’d have to see you. How about him? Did he say he doesn’t want to see you? Did he kick you out of his car?”
“No, I did that myself after ruining the date.”
“So he didn’t tell you to scram; you just scrammed voluntarily. Why?”
“I really don’t want to talk about it. It was a mistake I’m going to make damn sure I don’t repeat again.”
“Did you apologize?”
“As I bailed out of the car, yeah.”
“So you don’t know his reaction to your apology.”
“No. But I can’t imagine it was any good. Not after what I’d done.”
From the volume Jessie’s sigh, Jason could tell she was getting tired of his evasive answers. “And he made no effort to contact you and ask if you were okay after you just… bailed out of his car?”
“Well… no… he did,” Jason sheepishly admitted. “Once I got back into my apartment, I saw both your text and one from him.” At that, Jessie’s eyes opened a little wider, like they were finally getting somewhere. “I, uh… didn’t read the one from him.”
The groan Jessie released was loud enough to reverberate across the entire coffeeshop, which was thankfully not especially packed that morning. “Why not?!”
“I couldn’t bear to! Not after what I’d done! He probably told me he wants nothing to do with me and that we won’t see each other again. Why read it and make it worse?”
“Jason Mason Fox, you take out your phone right now and read that goddamn text–”
“That’s not my middle name–”
“Or so help me god, I will track Marko down myself and ask him what he sent you.”
“You wouldn’t!” Jessie countered. “Now read that text.”
With his heart beating loudly enough that Jason was sure Jessie could hear it, he reached his shaky hand into his pocket and pulled out the infernal device. Why hadn’t he just deleted the text when he had the chance? It’s not like he had any cherished conversations with Marko saved that he wanted to keep. And now that he’d blown his chance, he wasn’t going to have any.
With trembling thumb, Jason opened the messages app on his phone, and held his breath as the menu loaded. There it was, Marko’s last text to him, beginning with those terrible and fateful words…
“Hey, sorry for how tonight ended. I’ll admit I was caught off guard when you held….“
No moment since Jason had met Marko–not his words of seeming discomfort the night before, nor when Marko had asked him when his shift ended, nor even their first meeting that left him unable to say anything but “big”–had left Jason so petrified as he was in that moment. As the realization that all his doom and gloom may have been for naught slowly sunk in, all he could do was stare at the message menu in disbelieve. He’d let himself fall into such dark space when just checking his goddamn messages could have saved him all the emotional turmoil. Now if felt like that dark cloud had been petrified around him, their storms and thunder and darkness turned into mere painted porcelain that was then cracked by the words “sorry for how tonight ended.” Light crept through that crack, turning brighter and brighter as the porcelain crumbled around him. And all he could do was let the fragments pile up until the whole thing came down.
“Well?” Jessie asked impatiently.
“I, uh… I… haven’t opened it yet.”
“And you’re waiting for what, exactly?”
Jason let out an aggravated sigh and brought his thumb down on Marko’s message, opening the whole thing.
“Hey, sorry for how tonight ended. I’ll admit I was caught off guard when you held my stomach. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel kinda nice. If you do it again, I promise I won’t react so negatively. I hope this is just a momentary bump for us. I really do want to see you again.”
Jason had to reread the message twice to make sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. Once he was sure of what he’d read, he pocketed his phone and let himself slide farther down in the chair. Maybe if he slid far enough, he could disappear under the table and escape the entire situation he’d put himself in.
“So what’s the verdict?”
Tilting his head up just enough to look Jessie in the eye, Jason mumbled, “He, uh… he apologized for how last night ended.”
“Oh really?” she asked in feigned surprise.
“And he still wants to see me again.”
“Isn’t that something?”
Jason refused to answer Jessie’s question and tilted his head down again.
“Now Jason, I need to make sure you’re not doing anything wrong by the poor boy. After all, you apparently did something so bad you were sure he’d want nothing to do with you, but instead he’s the one apologizing. If I’m to believe your side, the fact that he’s apologizing could mean there’s an unhealthy situation going on–”
“I rubbed his belly after we hugged, okay?” Jason told her in the angriest whisper he could manage. “I held onto his stomach, thinking it was a nice, intimate thing to do, but he asked, ‘What are you doing?’ in a way that made me think I’d stepped over a line and made him feel uncomfortable. So I panicked and got out of there. And now it turns out he was just caught off guard and was kinda into it, and either way, he wants to see me again.”
Looking around the coffeeshop, Jason was grateful to see that most of the customers were on their respective digital devices with headphones in. Only Tina seemed to have stopped what she was doing to listen, but she quickly returned to her work. By the time he looked back at Jessie, her eyebrows were raised and her pursed lips were trying, and failing, to contain a smile. “Go on,” Jason goaded. “Out with it.”
“I mean,” Jessie stuttered through a poorly-contained giggle. “I’m going through a lot of reactions right now.”
“You can just say it: I overreacted.”
“Well, I don’t have to now.”
Jason let out a long exhalation, staring vacantly into the distance as he felt himself shedding the worry that had plagued the previous 12 hours. And like an animal shedding all its fur when it wasn’t meant to, he knew his current predicament wasn’t a good look.
“So, you’re going to ask him on a second date right?”
“Are you kidding?” Jason asked more loudly than he intended to. Hunching over as if it might make his voice quieter, he continued, “How am I supposed to face him after what just happened?”
“I don’t know, but he wants to see you. I think that’s reason enough to not call this whole thing off. Unless the date itself went poorly.”
Looking down again, Jason mumbled, “It was amazing.”
“Then you better text him back.”
Jason put off writing that text for the entire shift. And the rest of the day. And the entirety of the next day, until he found himself lying back on his couch that Sunday night. But with the knowledge that Marko might come into the shop the next day, he knew he couldn’t leave the text unanswered for much longer. He had to write something.
Pulling out his phone, Jason opened the message Marko had sent him and read it over and over again. After what had happened, he still wasn’t entirely unconvinced that Marko deserved better than him. But Marko wanted to see him again for some reason. He at least owed the guy a reply.
“Just got your text” Delete.
“Hey, how’s it going” Delete.
“Sorry for not responding earlier. It’s been a busy” Delete.
“Sorry for not responding earlier. I was trying to think of the right” Delete.
“Sorry for not responding earlier. I thought you wouldn’t want anything to do with” Delete. Delete. Delete.
Staring at the empty message panel, Jason let out a sigh, and tried again.
“It wasn’t your fault. I let my nerves get the best of me. If that invitation is still open, I would like to see you again too.”
And then he hit “Send” before he could overthink the issue any farther. Within a minute, he felt the phone vibrate again. Seeing Marko’s name made his heart race, but it was calmed a little when he saw that the message said, “Of course it’s still open. :-)”
Jason let the phone and the hand that held it fall on his chest as his head reclined back against the couch’s arm. Occasionally he picked the phone back up to look at the notification, and he smiled before letting it fall again. He waited for his breathing to slow down and his heart rate to reach a level that he couldn’t feel or hear anymore. Only then did he feel comfortable responding to Marko’s text, and confident he wouldn’t embarrass himself somehow.
Marko and Jason agreed to meet up again on Friday, just like the previous time, with Marko promising he’d try to get out of work earlier. This gave them the entire week to run into each other again during the lunch rush. Jason wasn’t sure what would be worse: having to see him again and make polite conversation without being able to talk about what had happened the previous Friday, or not seeing him at all and having to assure himself Marko wasn’t mad about in the meantime.
What Jason got was the second one. How he ever thought the greater uncertainty of not seeing Marko could be better than the potential awkwardness of seeing him, he wasn’t sure. The only saving grace of that week was that the lunch rush itself kept his mind mostly off of Marko during the one time when Jason was most thinking about whether he’d see him. But once the lunch rush was over, and Jason realized another day had passed without Marko coming in, he wondered if the invitation was only open so Marko could personally show Jason the door.
Seeing Marko working across the street all through the week didn’t help matters. Every sight of the man of his dreams was enough to make Jason’s heart beat a little faster. A flurry of thoughts flooded his head at the sight of him: was he going to see him that day? Or the next day? Was he going to abandon Jason at the coffeeshop on Friday? Or show up just to tell him off? Or were things really okay between the two of them? All of these questions made it more difficult to enjoy the sight of Marko’s ample belly bouncing around the construction site the way Jason used to. It also meant he spent much less of each day staring out the window.
Friday was the worst of it, with five days in a row without Marko showing up for coffee having convinced Jason that if he did show up that evening, it wouldn’t end well. A moderately busy afternoon shift kept Jason occupied, but it couldn’t keep his mind off Marko. He was so nervous that when his phone vibrated around 3:30, he nearly jumped. In the middle of making someone’s hot chocolate, he pulled out his phone and read the message from Marko:
“Just letting you know that at the pace things are moving, I should be able to leave in time to get there when your shift ends. See you soon!”
Breathing a little faster, Jason responded with, “Great, see you then!”, before realizing he’d gotten chocolate syrup on his phone screen and wiping it off with his shirt. Only then did he get back to the hot chocolate.
True to his word, Marko showed up at 3:59, waving at Jason before taking a seat at one of the empty tables. He still wore the tank top that must have taken him to his job, but seeing what seemed to be a genuine smile on his face made him the best sight Jason could ask for. Once he could finally walk out from behind the counter, he walked up to Marko, took a deep breath, and said, “Hey!”
“Hey!” Marko returned as he rose up from the table faster than Jason had ever seen him move. With a wide smile, he opened his arms to the side, an invitation Jason took gladly as he wrapped his arms around Marko’s chest. Once Marko wrapped Jason up in his embrace, Jason let out a quiet “Mmm,” just loudly enough for Marko to hear, a purr of contentment that didn’t stop until Marko let go. “It’s good to see you again.”
“You too,” Jason agreed.
“You know, I wanted to come in during my lunch breaks to see you. But they gave us a lot to get done this week, and I didn’t want to make you wait again. So I ate my lunch as quickly as I could and worked through the rest of my lunch break, rather than using it to get coffee, so I could end the week on time to see you today.”
“Aww,” Jason cooed. “You have more constitution than a lot of our regulars. The way they talk about their daily coffee, you’d think they’d drop dead without it.”
After chuckling a bit, Marko put his hand on Jason’s shoulder and asked, “Well, shall we head out?”
The two didn’t bring up the previous Friday as they walked around the park. Instead they talked more about artistic theory and technique, compared their respective programs of study, vented about their jobs, and talked about some of Marko’s works that he was proudest of. That time, Marko had enough foresight to toss a tee-shirt in his truck, allowing the two to eat dinner at a nearby midscale Italian restaurant. And as Jason nibbled on his spaghetti and meatballs while Marko enjoyed a plate of beef bolognese, they couldn’t help but look at each other and smile as they ate in silence. Sometimes Jason even giggled gleefully. It felt like the two were on a real date.
Once the two got out of the restaurant, Marko pulled his phone out of his pocket before observing, “Well, it’s 6:30, which gives us plenty of time to keep seeing each other. Unless… you’d rather head home early.”
“Oh, there’s no need for that. My shift tomorrow isn’t that early.”
Marko looked at Jason for a moment and smiled before he asked, “Alright, what shall we do next then?”
“Well… how far is your place from here?”
“About a half-hour’s drive.”
“Why don’t we head there for a while? I’d love to see some of your sculptures.”
In Jason’s mind, that was the only thing they’d be going back to Marko’s place for. In spite of how great the night had gone, he felt like expecting more after just a hug the previous Friday was setting himself up for disappointment. Even though any reasonable person would have
assumed from Marko’s drawn-out, quiet tone of voice when he said, “Yeah? Alright,” that the night would be a bit more eventful than a trip to an art gallery. But Jason just expected to see some art.
Either way, they made their way back to Marko’s truck and buckled up for the drive. As Marko pulled out of the parking lot and drove down the street, he was quiet, but still maintained a smile on his face that made Jason feel at ease. As classic rock played quietly over the radio, Jason reclined back in his seat and settled in for a relaxing drive.
“So… there is an elephant in the room we haven’t talked about yet.”
Jason froze in place, not that it meant much when he was already sitting down.
Jason immediately found himself wondering how badly he’d be injured if he were to jump from a moving pickup truck.
“You said your nerves got the better of you. What were you nervous about?”
“I… that I had overstepped a boundary,” Jason replied, forcing out each word like getting the last bit of toothpaste out of a tube, when he would rather have been anywhere else but there, having that conversation. “You know… touching you somewhere you don’t want to be touched.”
“Well, it was certainly a new experience. No guy’s ever touched me like that before.”
“At least, not in an intimate moment. Maybe to shake it up and down and tell me, ‘You need to work on this,’” Marko chuckled, though not as jubilantly as he usually did.
Jason found himself fuming at the idea that anyone would suggest Marko needed to “work on” his stunning belly. If those were the kinds of guys Marko usually dated, he supposed it was no wonder no one had shown that magnificent belly the tender and loving attention it deserved. If the only attention it got was critical, no wonder Marko reacted to Jason’s touch negatively.
“Well they’re full of bullshit,” Jason mumbled to himself, though it ended up coming out a good deal louder than he intended.
“Oh yeah?” Marko asked, sounding genuinely intrigued to hear Jason’s rebuttal.
“I mean…” Jason, on the other hand, had not intended to make that statement loudly enough for Marko to hear it, let alone to have to defend it. He still didn’t feel it was quite appropriate for him to gush about how amazingly handsome Marko was and how hot his massive belly was, so he opted for something a bit more indirect. “I mean, why were they even dating you if they had a problem with your… stomach?”
“I think they liked the idea of being with a big guy. Someone imposing and strong to protect them or… you know… take control in the bedroom,” Marko said with a giggle tinted by a hint of embarrassment.
“And that’s not really your style?” Jason asked.
“You know, I don’t really mind playing that roll, or any roll, really, if it pleases the guy I’m with. And, I mean, if being with me makes a guy feel safe, that’s great!, you know? I’m not much of a fighter, but I can intimidate people, sure. If those people happen be homophobes, even better,” Marko concluded with a sigh.
“I feel like there’s a ‘but’ coming.”
With a chuckle, Marko continued, “No, no ‘but’. I guess I’m just big in the wrong places.”
“What?! No!” Jason blurted out before he could stop himself, nearly covering his mouth with his hands after he’d said it, as if that would do any good. He looked at Marko, hoping for some sort of reaction he could bounce off of, but Marko just looked at the road ahead with eyebrows raised and eyelids open wide. It seemed Jason was on his own. “I mean… look, I know we’ve only known each other for, like, a week, so what do my opinions matter? But…” Jason had to let out another sigh before he could continue. “You’re one of the most handsome men I’ve ever had the privilege to lay my eyes on. And you being… big in the places you are is part of why. A big part of why.”
Marko remained silent as he kept driving, but Jason could see his lips pursing ever so slightly, and his eyelids weren’t quite as open as they had been before. It was hard to see what they were conveying when Marko’s sunglasses meant he could only see Marko’s eyes from the side. Jason felt like he’d put his foot in his mouth if he kept talking, but whether the awkward silence was worse was a difficult question to answer. It was a question Jason had to ponder for the agonizing 10 or 15 seconds or so it took Marko to finally ask, “So… you… like my belly?”
With his mouth hanging open, Jason struggled to find the words to say, before he settled on a quiet, nearly whimpered, “How could I not?”
A shrug on Marko’s part was followed by, “Plenty of folks in the past had a pretty easy time of it.”
“Well, I’m not one of them. And, honestly, I don’t give a shit what they thought. You’re magnificent.”
Out of the side of Marko’s sunglasses, Jason could see him look downward contemplatively in between keeping his eyes on the road long enough to see what was ahead. As he waited for what would come out of Marko’s mouth next, the last thing he expected to hear was, “You mean it?”
The noise that came out of Jason’s mouth resembled a scoff more than a sigh. “Look, I’m no poet. I can’t make my infatuation with you seem as profound as Shakespeare or Dickenson could make theirs. But I can tell you that no man has ever taken my breath away so thoroughly that all I could blurt out was the word ‘big’.”
The slightest hint of a smile spread across Marko’s face at being reminded of the event. “You know, the day it happened, I thought you were making fun of me. Sure surprised me when you apologized afterward. I figured your supervisors must have given you a stern talking to.”
“They mostly just told me to stick to the name on the order slip,” Jason said sheepishly.
“Sound advice,” Marko quipped, that smile on his face having blossomed a little bigger. Jason took that as a good sign.
“You… really thought I was making fun of you?”
“That’s the only reason most people bring up my size. How was I to know that you’d find my belly appealing?” With his smile fading and a more somber tone in his voice, Marlo continued, “That… anyone would find it appealing?”
With a dispirited sigh, Jason said, “You know, insecurity doesn’t suit you either.”
At that, Marko’s smile came back, and he looked at Jason just long enough to give him a happy look before returning to looking at the road. At that, they seemed to have reached a satisfying point in the conversation, and were comfortable riding mostly in silence until they got to Marko’s place.
The drive took the two to a more out-of-the-way town that Jason had never been to before, the kind of place where all the things that there were to do were limited to one small downtown area. The houses were still reasonably close to each other, but rows of trees between them and small areas of forest were common. Marko’s house itself was a fairly small ranch house, and yet, in an area like that, it still afforded him a sizable yard. A yard he didn’t seem to be doing much with other than mowing the grass.
“Here we are,” Marko said. “Home sweet home.”
“Do you live here on your own?”
“Yep. All this space to myself.”
“That must be nice.”
“It gives me space for my sculpture, sure. But… I dunno. Sometimes it feels a bit big for one person.”
“It does look like you have a lot of lawn to take care of.”
“That I do. In the summer, I build up enough of a sweat pushing the mower that have to do it shirtless.”
At the mere suggestion of that image, Jason froze in place with his mouth flat and his eyes gazing off into the distance. That was, until he heard Marko chuckle, at which he came back to his senses and looked back at him with an embarrassed smile.
“Well… shall we head in?”
The front door led the two into the living room, with a couch and a recliner facing a TV on the same wall as the entryway to the kitchen. Opposite the TV was a door to the garage, where Marko promised they wouldn’t be going. “I use it for storage, and it’s… not in a good state right now,” he cryptically told Jason as Marko comminuted the tour into the kitchen.
The kitchen managed to exceed Jason’s expectations of what a bachelor’s kitchen would look like. Although it wasn’t stocked full of a wide variety of ingredients, the lack of dust around the appliances assured Jason that Marko actually knew how to cook. Opposite of all the counter space was a table with three chairs next to it, as well as two unused place settings in front of two of the chairs. “You eat here?” Jason asked.
“Sometimes. Sometimes I’ll take my meal into the living room instead and watch something while I eat.”
With a nod, Jason followed Marko through the kitchen and reached a sheet of plastic covering the open doorway to the next room. “Alright, here’s the studio,” Marko said, sounding nervous to show it to Jason.
“Why is the entrance covered in plastic?”
“It’s easier than building a door, and it keeps the sawdust out of the kitchen.”
With a nod, Jason followed Marko as he pushed his way through the two sheets of plastic. The sheets had enough overlap that Jason couldn’t separate them completely, which he supposed was all the better for keeping the sawdust out of Marko’s food. In spite of his struggles, he knew that if Marko could fit through, there was no reason he couldn’t. So he pushed through the suffocating plastic, until he emerged on the other side.
Jason had never seen a proper sculptor’s studio before, so he wasn’t sure what to expect. Inside, he found a room stripped mostly bare of anything that would normally fill a room in a house: no furniture other than a chair in front of Marko’s current work in progress, no bookshelves, and very little in the way of decoration. What did fill the room was drawers that must have been filled with tools, scrap wood scattered all over the floor that was otherwise covered by tarps stained with wood glue, a desk, and a few stands, assuredly for Marko to put a piece on as he worked. By two opposite windows, Jason saw two box fans ready to be mounted in the windows.
“Yup, this is it.”
“You’re adorable,” Marko told Jason with a chuckle.
With cheeks turning red, Jason motioned toward the unfinished sculpture in the middle of the room and asked, “So what’s that going to be.”
“Not sure,” Marko said as he walked past Jason to stand next to the piece. “I started this one wanting to make something abstract, something where I could let my imagination run free. Unfortunately, that idea hasn’t been as compelling as I thought it would be, so it’s been sitting in here for a while.”
“You prefer realistic pieces?”
“Generally. I might sculpt a symbol every once in a while, but this abstract idea just isn’t doing it for me.”
“Have you thought of scrapping it and moving on to something that grabs you more?”
“Several times. I dunno, it feels like a waste of wood.”
Looking at the strangely shaped lump of wood and glue in front of him, Jason tried to imagine what he could see the piece becoming. On one side, he saw a flat side with very little wood carved out of it. Opposite of that, the top had a protruding section that made it hard to balance against the the rest of the piece. And that was when it hit Jason: “You already carved a dog, right? If you flip it onto it’s flattest side, you could make a cat lying down.”
With pursed lips, Marko picked the piece up and flipped it as Jason had suggested. Once he put it down and stepped away, he seemed to be able to see what Jason was talking about, as his “Hmm”s became more frequent and louder. “You might be on to something.” With a smile, Marko walked toward Jason and put his hand on his shoulder. “If I end up going that route, I’ll dedicate the piece to you.”
“Aww,” Jason said, tilting his head down with a smile as Marko kept rubbing his shoulder. Feeling the continued warmth of Marko’s touch, Jason looked up into Marko’s eyes with a sheepish smile. Marko smiled back, a confident grin matched with half-closed, relaxed eyes. It was a look that made it hard for Jason to look away. “Well, uh… how about the rest of the house?”
Marko paused for a bit, before he patted Jason on the back and said, “Sure, this way.”
The two slipped through another pair of plastic sheet that lead to a fairly small hallway. Of the four doors, the far-left and near-right doors were open, while the rest were closed.
“This one leads to the basement,” Marko said as he pointed to the closed near-left door.
“Why don’t you work on your sculpture down there?”
“Poor air circulation, hence the fans in the studio.”
“Then that’s the bathroom. On the right, my bedroom, and then, well… my old studio.”
The idea of getting a glimpse into Marko’s most intimate world was immediately less appealing after he’d hesitated in how he described the final room. “‘Old studio’?”
“Yeah, I used to do my sculpture in there, before I needed more room and moved it into the old living room. Well, shall we head back to the new living room and–”
“What’s in your old studio now?”
Jason could see that Marko was hoping to avoid that question. With his head tilted down with and a pensive expression, he eventually looked up and said, “That’s where I keep my finished sculptures that aren’t going to someone else. My… personal work, you could say..”
“Can I see them?” Jason asked enthusiastically, before looking at Marko’s pursed lips and vacant stare and realizing that his tone wasn’t exactly the tone of someone keen on showing off their personal work. But to his surprise, Marko gave him a smile and beckoned him to follow. Walking ahead of Jason, Marko went down the hallway until he reached the door, and paused with his hand on the doorknob. With a deep inhalation, he opened the door and reached inside to turn on a lightswitch.
The lights flickered on as Marko moved out of the way, looking back to Jason with a nervous smile and extending a hand toward the open door. Rounding the corner, Jason beheld a room that must have had about 30 statues inside. A good number were small enough to rest on shelves that stood against the walls of the room. But the biggest ones all sat in the center. They took up the entire back half of the room, extending from the middle to the back wall, with its shades pulled down to keep any light from getting in.
With a bit more time to take everything in, Jason could see the seems were the various pieces of wood were held together with wood glue, their linear structure contrasting with the naturalistic curves and shapes of the piece itself. As he looked around the room, Jason noticed themes of what kind of things Marko liked to carve. Animals were a common theme, as well as figures of people distinguished not so much by their unique characteristics, but by their poses. Marko seemed to have a penchant for expressive poses, but one in particular caught Jason’s eye.
Most of Marko’s sculptures of people had fairly average frames, as if he wished to call attention to the pose and not the person. But in the far left corner of the room, Jason spotted a rather tall statue, nearly four feet high, of a figure more of Marko’s stature, standing proudly with its hands on its hips. It had a big, round belly, which Marko seemed to have taken his time to smooth out into a round shape much like his own. With a statue that size, the level of detail required was a good deal greater than that of most of his person statues. And he seemed to have chosen the details to match himself.
“Is that a self-portra–err… self… carving? In the corner over there?”
“Something like that,” Marko answered meekly, prompting Jason to look back to him. As he looked at the statue, Marko’s fingers were fidgeting, and he didn’t make eye contact with Jason as he talked. “I carved that about… six or seven months ago? I realized none of my statues really looked like me, so I tried to carve one more in my image. To convince myself that it’s… okay to be this size.” Marko sounded like he had to force the last few words out, like telling his dentist he hadn’t been flossing, like an apology he didn’t want to make, like he didn’t want to admit he’d failed to convince himself it was okay to be the size he was.
By then, Marko had meandered his way into the room to stand beside Jason. He was still looking at the statue with a sort of wistful disappointment, eyes locked on this effigy that couldn’t properly reward him for all the work he’d put into it. Jason wanted nothing more than for Marko to have that self-assuredness in his current size. To internalize how much Jason appreciated him for it. But he didn’t know how to convey that appreciation, at least until he remembered the text from Marko: “But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel kinda nice. If you do it again, I promise I won’t react so negatively.”
Turning toward Marko, Jason reached his right hand out to gently rub the front of Marko’s belly. It was a lighter touch than he’d used the previous Friday, something gentle to try to ease Marko out of his malaise. But when Marko looked down and over his massive belly at Jason’s hand without changing his expression, Jason wondered if it was working.
“I think you did a great job,” Jason assured him in a higher-pitched voice than his usual speaking voice, prompting Marko to look at him with a modest smile. “You really captured what makes a man with a frame like yours so appealing. The formidability of a protector, the promise of comfort, the approachability of all your soft features, and…” Looking down at Marko’s belly and letting his hand sink in a bit more deeply, “the ampleness of just how much there is to appreciate.”
Marko’s modest smile was now matched with the raised eyelids of someone who wasn’t sure what to say in response to what he’d been told. Eventually he settled on, “And you said you were no Shakespeare.”
With a modest chuckle, Jason said, “Next time I’ll try for iambic pentameter.”
Once the smile on Marko’s face had grown wide enough that he looked genuinely happy, he reached out with his right hand and grabbed Jason’s left, before turning to face Jason and planting Jason’s hand on his belly. With both of Jason’s hands on the side of Marko’s stomach, he was brought back to that disastrous Friday night, before being brought back to their current moment by the feeling of Marko’s hands on his own. With a smile, Marko let go of Jason’s hands and freed them to feel over his gut.
And boy what a treat that was. With only the thin cloth of the tee-shirt between his hands and Marko’s ample belly, Jason could feel the warmth that emanated from the firm ball of a gut that Marko carried in front of him. Rubbing over the sides, he could feel that it jutted out from Marko’s body like a marching band’s bass drum, able to announce his presence before he rounded the corner like the instrument. Farther in the front, he could feel just how impressive Marko’s heft was. His hands gripped a bit more tightly at Marko’s belly, fingertips digging into the soft surface of Marko’s belly before the firm interior pushed back against him.
“You really like my belly, huh?” Marko asked.
With a deep inhalation, Jason looked back up into Marko’s eyes, his own eyes wide open, and whispered, “More than you could ever know.”
“Oh I think I have an idea,” Marko retorted with a smile and a deep voice, before Jason felt Marko’s belly push against his hands. Marko was puffing his belly out.
Jason had to close his eyes as his inhalation took on a staggered rhythm. With his hands grabbing more cravingly at Marko’s gut, he let them travel to the bottom, where he tried to lift it. But he had nowhere near the strength required to move that gut. Marko’s belly alone must have weighed as much as a man about Jason’s size, a thought that took Jason’s breath away. So instead he resumed rubbing Marko’s belly, enjoying his girth with a massive smile on his face.
Speaking in a softer version of his regular voice, Marko cooed, “You know… there’s something… rebellious about this.”
“Oh yeah?” Jason asked, hands still holding fast onto Marko.
“I’ve always been told that this belly is something undesirable, something shameful. Even by guys who claimed to want to date me.” Jason’s mouth curled in indignation before Marko continued, “But now, for you to be enjoying it, for you to get so much… pleasure, from something I was told to feel ashamed of…” At those words, not only did Jason smile again, but his hands moved along Marko’s belly in slower strokes that savored every pound of heft. “That’s… that’s awesome.”
With a rapid inhalation, Jason looked up at Marko’s face and locked eyes with him, unable to look away from that satisfied smile and his half-closed eyes, looking back at Jason with an emotion he wasn’t sure how to read. With Marko’s belly still in his greedy hands, Jason looked to the side at the floor and said, “Can ask you something?”
“Promise you won’t laugh?”
Marko’s smile grew even wider as he brought his hands on top of Jason’s shoulders, with Jason feeling like he could crumble under the weight of Marko’s touch. “Promise.”
“Can I kiss you?
At that, Marko let his head tilt down and let out the faintest trace of a snicker, before looking up at Jason with a smile that tried to hide it.
“You said you wouldn’t laugh!”
“You’re right,” Marko said sincerely. “Let me make it up to you.”
As Marko slid his hands over Jason’s shoulders before wrapping them around him behind his back, he leaned in to bring himself closer. Jason got a nervous smile on his face before he stood up on his tiptoes so Marko wouldn’t have to bend so far over. As they neared each other, Marko’s belly bumped into Jason’s stomach, before enveloping him in his warmth and girth. At that sensation, Jason inhaled sharply, just before Marko brought his lips to bear on him.
In the warm sanctuary of Marko’s embrace, Jason barely noticed that their lips had come together, until Marko pulled Jason in even closer and had to tilt his head to make room. At that, Jason brought his arms up to wrap them around Marko’s chest and pull himself in closer, before his own lips slowly opened to take Marko’s inside of themselves. They pulled off slowly, savoring the moment that a few weeks ago, Jason could only have dreamed of, that a few hours ago, he would have only let himself dream of. All while Marko’s lips patiently waited their turn before hungrily taking Jason’s inside themselves.
Jason nearly became weak at the knees, holding on to Marko for dear life as he whimpered in his embrace. When his legs didn’t give out, one started shaking, the way they often did when he got nervous. Usually, he had the benefit of having already sat down when his leg started shaking, but his standing position forced him to lean on his left leg and tighten his grip on Marko’s chest.
“Mmm, you okay?” Marko asked once he was able to pull himself away from their kiss.
“Wha–yeah, why?” Jason asked as he caught his breath.
“Well, you’re holding on tight enough that it’s getting hard to breath, and your leg is shaking.”
“Oh, heh, sorry. That happens when I get nervous.”
“Ohhh,” Marko cooed in a tone more appropriate for an “Aww”. Running a finger up Jason’s face and through his hair, he smiled with his eyes mostly closed and asked, “What are you nervous about?”
“I… I don’t know.”
With a prolonged “Mmmm”, Marko brought both of his arms around Jason and pulled him in for a bear hug, forcing Jason to bend over Marko’s gut, which only made him more excited. “You don’t have to be nervous,” Marko whispered. “I got you.”
At that, Jason couldn’t help but let out a high-pitched, “Mmm,” of his own and settle into Marko’s grasp. They stayed like that until Marko pulled away and put his hands on Jason’s shoulders again, both men looking at each other with contented smiles on their faces. Marko’s was accompanied with eyelids hanging down longingly, while Jason’s were open wide with excitement.
“Mmm, c’mere, you,” Marko said before pulling Jason close again. This time, both men were on top of it, with Marko leaning forward to pull his belly out of the way as Jason stood on his toes to reach up toward Marko. As both of them wrapped the other in their arms, their lips met with the efficiency of old lovers kissing for the thousandth time, wrapping each other up in their familiar comfort. And yet, they kissed with the passion of lovers getting to know each other for the first time through only what their lips could say without words.
Neither seemed to want to let go. And yet, after standing in the door with all of Marko’s handiwork watching them kiss, they both managed to pull away at the same time and look into each other’s eyes, both of them with eyes halfway open and smiles as wide as could be. “I don’t want this to end,” Marko whispered.
“Me neither,” Jason concurred.
“But… I also want to make sure you get enough sleep for work tomorrow.”
“Mmmm, why do you have to be so responsible?” Jason complained as he buried his face in Marko’s chest.
“I know, I know,” Marko lamented. “I don’t want this to end either. But it’s not the end, alright? We’ll see each other again.”
“Promise,” Marko repeated, bringing his warm hand up to Jason’s shoulder to run his thumb against his cheek.
Once a smile finally spread across Jason’s face, Marko patted his back and said, “Come on. Let’s get you home.” After letting Jason out of his embrace, Marko took Jason’s hand in his as he lead him out of the house. Once they were back outside, they seperated long enough to get into Marko’s truck and for Marko to get them on the road. After that, they were hand in hand for most of the drive, exchanging occasional glances and smiles throughout.
“This was fun,” Jason interjected when the silence got to be too much. Though Marko kept his eyes on the road, Jason could see him smile unmistakably in the light of the streetlights, before he squeezed Jason’s hand extra hard.
“It was,” Marko agreed. “We should do this again.”
“Next Friday night?”
“Mmmm… what’s your weekend schedule like?”
“I work 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Saturdays, and not at all on Sundays… say, how about next Saturday after I get out of work?”
“I like that. Then we get the whole afternoon together, and don’t have to worry about either of us getting home by a certain time.”
“Well… I suspect that after tonight, we’ll end up at your place or mine at the end of the day anyway,” Jason said with his best cool and confident façade. In truth, he worried that was pushing it too far, and counted on the darkness of the night around them to keep Marko from seeing his nervousness.
It seemed to work, as Marko let out a knowing chuckle and rubbed his thumb along Jason’s hand. “I think you’re right,” Marko said in a mischievous voice. “Still, plenty left to do together in and out of the bedroom, yeah?”
“Yeah. So, um… “ Jason looked over briefly during Marko’s pause as he worked up the nerve to ask, “What does this make us?”
Marko thought for a while about his answer would be, keeping his hand wrapped around Jason’s to make it clear the question didn’t change what the two had. After some time, he finally answered, “It makes us two guys who are feeling this out and seeing what it could be. And if it keeps going this well, I could see us being boyfriends.”
Boyfriends. Jason liked the sound of that.