Jax trudged up the steps having a hard time putting one foot in front of the other, he was so tired and shaky after finishing up at the shop. Steph had noticed too, and it had sucked being peppered with a stream of questions ranging from how well he was sleeping to if he’d been getting enough to eat. After the binge with the ice cream he’d been careful to limit himself to two small meals a day and extra workouts, but he wasn’t sure it had erased the damage done. Standing in the mirror in the morning when he’d gotten dressed, he’d looked at himself from all angles. His jeans were still fitting right, even hanging a bit low on his hips the way he liked them. He’d stroked a hand over the ridges of his abs, poking them a bit, wondering if it was a bit of flab beginning to show.
Anger had raged inside of him, because he’d worked so hard only to fuck it up so badly. For a moment he’d contemplated smashing the window, but the last thing he needed was more bad luck in his life. For a moment, he’d simply stood there, staring at his reflection, disgusted with himself, before finally pulling a t-shirt on. Hiding himself from view always felt better on days like this, though it always felt like a shame to cover up all of that beautiful ink. Those pieces would have been better on someone else, someone who wasn’t disgustingly undisciplined.
He was so busy wallowing in dark thoughts and misery that he didn’t notice Danny’s door was open until the other man’s voice stopped him cold.
“Hey Jax, you got a minute?”
He lifted his head, wondering what Danny could possibly want after the way their last conversation ended. “Yeah, um, sure,” Jax said as he climbed the final step and crossed the hallway to lean against the wall.
“Do you mind coming in?”
It was impossible not to let the shock show on his face at Danny’s suggestion, but he nodded, and stepped past him into the well-lit apartment. The cats where there to greet him, winding around his feet, so adorable that Jax couldn’t help but kneel down and scratch beneath their chins and rub their fuzzy heads. Lyric arched and purred, making Jax smile a bit as the big cat put her paws on his shoulder and rubbed faces with him.
“Well hello to you too,” he said, rubbing the fluffy furball even more.
Mrrrumph, Lyric replied, headbutting his hand.
Jax laughed, gave her one final skirtch beneath the chin, and stood to find Danny watching him, an unreadable look on his face.
Jax squirmed, a little uncomfortable at the way Danny was watching him. “What’s up?”
“Would you like some coffee or tea or anything?”
“Umm water, please.”
“Sure,” Danny said, heading for the kitchen. “Grab a seat.”
Looking around, Jax decided on one of the wooden chairs at the dining room table and dropped into it, catching sight of a bottle of whiskey on the counter as he did. He could have gone for some of that at the moment, if Danny was offering, might have cut down a little on the nerves he was feeling.
When Danny sat the ice water on a coaster in front of him, he drank it gratefully, glad to have something to do with his hands as Danny settled into the chair across from him.
“After the last conversation we had, I know I have no right to ask this, but I need a favor and you’re the only one I know who might be able to help us out with this,” Danny began.
Jax exhaled, finding himself instantly more at ease at hearing Danny’s words. A favor he could handle, he’d been worried Danny wanted to talk about their messed up attempt at friendship. Settling more comfortable in his chair, Jax had a brief moment to wonder about the prickle of disappointment he suddenly felt, before Danny started talking again.
“Herman’s cousin Thatcher was supposed to build the sets for the play, but he bailed on us, kind of last minute to take a better paying job, and I was wondering if you would have the time and be willing to finish the sets for us.”
Jax tapped his fingers together, letting Danny’s words sink in. Helping with the sets would mean seeing Danny every day and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. It would be harder to keep just how much he liked Danny to himself if he had to constantly interact with him, but on the other hand, he’d really enjoyed hearing the script performed. The play had spoken to him and it would be kind of cool to have a hand in making it happen. If only….
Jax raised his head to meet Danny’s eyes, then dropped it, because Danny’s gaze was just too intense.
“What’s your backup plan?” he asked at last.
“You are the backup plan,” Danny admitted and Jax could hear the weariness in his voice. “If you can’t do it, then we’ll have to cancel the show and hope we can get a time slot for some time next year.”
Danny sighed. “Yeah, pretty much. Like I said, I’m sorry to have to ask you. I know you’re busy with work and all…”
“Only in the evenings,” Jax blurted. “Most days I just spend my time at the gym.”
“I’ve got all the tools we’d need, do you have plans or drawings or something to show me what the sets are supposed to look like?”
“Plans, did you have anything drawn up?”
“Yeah, does that mean you’ll do it?”
Jax raised his head and once again met Danny’s eyes. “Yeah, actually. I don’t want you to have to cancel your play. I liked what I heard at the rehearsals, I’d kind of love the chance to see it live.”
Jax watched as Danny’s eyes went wide, relief washing some of the stress lines away from his face. The rest fled when he smiled and Jax felt a special kind of pleasure at having put that smile there. Maybe he’d fucked up any shot at friendship, but perhaps he could make it up to Danny, just a little, by hoping with the play this way.
“Holy…Jax thank you. Thank you so much, I-I don’t even know what to say right now, I, just thank you for agreeing to do this. This play means so much to me and if the critics come and they like it, then some favorable reviews can really help me get some of my other plays in theaters around the city and maybe in Missouri too and who knows, maybe it could go further, and…listen to me, ranting on and on and we haven’t even performed opening night yet.”
Jax couldn’t help but laugh at that, and Danny’s passion and energy.
“That’s pretty awesome, how into your work you are.”
“This is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do. I love writing plays. I hope I can connect to the audience with them. That they’ll take something away from what they saw that makes them want to talk about it with friends, encourage them to come see the play too.”
“That’s cool. It really is. If you’ve got a copy of the plans here I’d love to take a look at them.”
Danny nodded, shoved his chair back and hurried to his bag, returning to the table with a folder market set designs. This time, when he sat it wasn’t across the table from Jax, but in the chair closest to him, laying out the plans on the table in front of him.
“This is the biggest piece,” Danny explained, pointing to a corner section that jutted out from a wall. “It has to look like a wrestling ring.”
Jax nodded, studying it. It looked simple enough to construct, as a stationary prop. He checked the dimensions, and the notes beneath explaining that a few scenes would actually be taking place in it. That was good to know.
“What’s this?” Jax asked, pointing a piece of the plans that had a big X through them.
“Oh, we had to scrap that,” Danny said, reaching for the paper.
“No one knew how to make it work out.”
“What was it?”
There was a scene in the play where Az is trying to kill a mouse, but you can’t use a real mouse on the stage and the movements in cat toys don’t last long enough. You pull the string and it goes a little and dies. We tried battery operated ones but they zip across the floor too fast to be realistic.
Jax cocked his head to the side, studying it.
“So what happened to the scene?”
“We left it in, it’s a key scene, we just decided to pretend there was something there and hope the audience will suspend disbelief for a moment.”
“Or we can take the guts out of a stuffed mouse and replace them with the inside of a remote controlled car, and have someone off to the side control the mouse for the scene.”
Danny’s jaw dropped, his eyes blinked and Danny watched as he glanced from the paper, back to Jax, then back to the paper again.
“Holy shit that could work. Can you, do you know how to do that?”
“Yeah. I loved remote control cars growing up, we were always fiddling with them, building them and motorizing shit to scare people with. I can put it together, no problem.”
“Thank you. Damn. I, this is way more than I expected.” Danny admitted.
Jax just shrugged. “I should be thanking you. You’re giving me a chance to fiddle with that stuff again.”
“Why’d you stop?”
Shrugging again, Jax rested his head on his hand.
“I dunno, guess I figured I’d outgrown it or something.”
Danny laughed a little, and Jax picked at the sleeve of his shirt as he tried to figure out why.
“I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you,” Danny said, waving his hand in the air between them. “It’s just, it sucks that as we get older we start to feel as if we have to give up on the things we love. Why? I don’t get it, even though I’ve come to realize I’ve let a lot of things go for the same reasons.”
“Yeah, like what?”
“I used to love roleplaying games and all night gaming sessions. You name it and Herman and I used to play.”
“No shit?” Jax chuckled. “I’ve played a few times, but Callum and Max play a lot, they’ve got tons of games. You should go down and talk to them sometime if you’re still interested in playing. I’m sure they’d be happy to have you join in and Herman too if he wants.”
For the second time tonight, Danny’s smile made Jax feel good about having put it there.
“You know what, when this play is over, I’m going to do just that. Thank you.”
“No problem.” Jax stifled a yawn and stood, unsteadily. “Well, if I’m gonna be building sets for you in the morning, then I’d better get a good night’s sleep.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you at the theater at ten.”
“That’ll work,” Jax said and turned, intending to head for the door when the whole room spun and spots sort of danced in front of his eyes. He swayed and grabbed hold of the table, shocked when he felt Danny’s hands on his arm and back.
“Are you okay?”
Jax shook his head to clear it, then took a deep breath and let it out slow, steadying himself and easing away from Danny.
“Yeah, um, fine, just more tired than I thought, sorry,” Jax said as he headed for the door, willing himself to walk a straight line to his apartment.
He fumbled with the door for a moment and once inside, thought to head to the kitchen and grab some food. He knew he should, but the moment he was alone that nagging voice returned, reminding him he still had all of that ice cream to make up for. In the end, he just went to bed.