-Are you following me?-
e wasn’t really interested in the brat, Misha tried to assure himself the next morning when he woke; it had been just the alcohol, the difference in Joni, and the fact that they hadn’t seen each other for so long. It had been just curiosity, quite innocent; nothing to worry about. And now he had apologized to Joni and his apology had been accepted.
Still, most of the day he was thinking of the brat, not because he was interested, oh no, he couldn’t be! – Misha assured himself, but because he was worried about the relationship Joni had with this Canadian.
Joni hadn’t seemed like himself and it bothered him, now maybe if he would see him again? Maybe then? He wondered and thought he should maybe try and figure out what Dima thought about it if he still suspected.
As the days passed, Misha was still at times thinking about Joni; just curiosity and normal worry, after all, Joni had met the guy at his grandparents’ after being sent there because… well… Misha could take some blame for it.
It took two weeks for them to meet again, quite accidentally in fact; Misha had been forced to change his gym since the old one was going through a renovation by its new owners, of course, the one he ended up choosing was really by chance the one Dima once mentioned as the gym that Joni used; nothing to do with this fact whatsoever!
He usually went in the evenings, yet this time he had chosen to go early at noon having the day off. Besides, gyms were less crowded at this hour and he could work out in peace unless of course there would be the unfortunate chance of having high school kids in their exercise class; giggling, blushing teenage girls, was there anything worse?
He was in luck, however; Monday noon and quite peaceful. After changing he headed to warm up first and to his more or less surprise he happened to see Joni there. The brat didn’t seem to notice him at first; he was listening to music and using the treadmill, sweat already glimmering on his forehead seeming lost in his world. Misha grinned slightly and chose the exercise wheel next to the kid; for a while, he was staring at Joni until finally the brunet turned his head and he could see him startle slightly.
”Shit,” Joni cursed, slowed down the speed, and then took the other earphone off. ”What are you doing here?” he asked, raising his brow.
”What does it look like I’m doing?” Misha asked in return, slightly amused. ”Exercising of course.”
”Oh really?” Joni rolled his eyes, ”I’m not that dumb you know? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
”Day off and my gym’s closed down for a few months. I heard this place was good, though I’d try,” Misha explained calmly, looking towards the TV screen ahead; football match, brilliant.
”It is a good gym, I’ve been going here since I was sixteen,” Joni agreed.
”Anyway since you enquired about my work, I should ask why you’re not at school.”
”It’s an evening school, besides I don’t have a lot of studying left, I mostly go there for tests, or to bring my papers. I doubt you are really interested.”
Misha glanced at Joni, who was looking at the TV screen as well, walking more than running now, but still at a fast pace, his face serious, almost annoyed.
”Well, what if I am? You’re Dima’s friend and when we met last time, I thought we put all the past behind us?”
Joni looked back at him, a flash of emotions in those honey-brown eyes were difficult to read, eyes that still to this day, remained most beautiful Misha had ever seen.
”What has changed?” Joni asked, looking at the screen in front of them now.
”What do you mean?”
”You didn’t like me, and there is no need to pretend that you’re interested in my life now.”
Misha sighed, ”I said I was sorry,” he reminded and the boy was silent for a moment. There was a brief passing frown on his handsome features, that disappeared when he spoke.
”Yes, you did…” He still kept his eyes forward before sighing. ”How was the rest of your evening?” There was a short glance cast in his direction.
Misha frowned, looking confused at first, ”Oh you mean at the club?”
”It was alright,” Misha smiled, ”that guy you pointed out came to talk with me…”
”So you got lucky then, how good for you,” Joni couldn’t hide the hint of sarcasm.
”I got his number, I never did call, I know what he was looking for.”
Joni smirked, shook his head, and looked at Misha.
Misha frowned. ”I wasn’t interested,” he answered calmly.
”No, of course not,” Joni nodded, slowing down before finally hopping down and wiping sweat from his forehead.
”What’s that supposed to mean?”
”You know, you look ridiculous on that bike,” Joni grinned, before turning his back and walking towards the other machines.
Now Misha was annoyed; he couldn’t believe he had felt sorry for the kid! He took a moment to calm down, before finally deciding to follow.
He found the brunet training his arms, and briefly their eyes met through the mirror that was before them.
”Following me now? Do you need help here?” Joni asked in teasing tone.
”Things here are a bit different,” Misha forced himself to stay calm, ”but you know, I could help you if you like? Working on those muscles.” He decided to throw the teasing tone back at him. Joni was leaner than him to be sure, but beautifully sculpted, very fine as he was, but since the brat teased him…
”Oh, I can manage on my own,” Joni snorted.
”If you say so,” Misha grinned and sat down to lift some weights. Joni glanced at him but then quickly turned his gaze back to the mirror seeming to focus on what he was doing, or trying to at least.
Misha observed him silently, as discreetly as he could and suddenly detected a bruise on his arm. It was partly covered with the sleeve of Joni’s t-shirt, he frowned, wondering if indeed what he saw was just a small part of a bigger bruise, and would there be more under his clothes?
Joni suddenly seemed to notice his watchful eyes, glanced at his arm, and realized what he could see. He met Misha’s eyes through the mirror, ”I slipped in the bathroom, Chris always forgets to dry the floor.” His face managed to hide any emotions, he drifted his gaze back to his own reflection.
Still, Misha had an uneasy feeling. What a convenient explanation, one to trigger alarm bells in his mind.
”Indeed? So, you slip there quite often, do you?” Misha asked, studying the youth.
”What’s that supposed to mean?” Joni immediately got defensive.
”You said he always forgets,” Misha bit his tongue not to say what he thought, he knew just as Dima that it might be a mistake to ask straight about it; might cause Joni to draw back, even more, had to be careful but now he wanted to find out the truth even more.
”Yes,” Joni sighed, ”And I always forget to be careful,” he added, putting the weights away and moving to do sit-ups near by.
”Is it hurting?” Misha asked, watching him.
”Your bruise looks rather painful.”
”It’s old, looks worse than it is,” Joni answered with calm voice, avoiding his gaze. ”If it hurt, do you think I’d come here, train my arms?” He asked, raising his brow, grinning.
”I guess you wouldn’t,” Misha smiled carefully.
”So, did Ivo get a date with that girl?” Joni asked continuing to exercise.
”Yes, in fact, he did,” Misha smiled, ”I believe he’s taking her out to dinner this weekend, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for anything more.”
Joni glanced at him, smiled, but the smile was faint.
Misha couldn’t look away, especially when Joni was lying on the bench, sweat glimmering on his skin, lips parted, catching his breath and staring at the ceiling, knees slightly bent… He was, it had to be admitted, quite breathtaking vision to behold.
Misha willed himself to look away and work out even harder. Stealing another glance when Joni sat up to take a sip of water, and moved back to train his arms.
”So how is modeling?” Misha tried to resume the small talk.
”Hm… okay… though, I’ve had a little break from it, you know, to focus on my studies,” he took a pause, glanced back at him with a brief smile. ”Will do more next month,” he added.
Finally, Joni got up, ”I’m going downstairs to train,” he said, ”I guess I see you around?”
Misha nodded, ”Yes, see you.”
Joni later got to the dressing room, only shortly followed by Misha. The man’s arrival to the otherwise empty dressing room made Joni rethink about the shower, the fading bruise on his arm wasn’t the only one and he didn’t want Misha to see; so he would shower at home.
”You want a lift home?” Misha asked, starting to get undressed.
”Thanks but I think I’ll walk, it’s a nice day out,” Joni answered, glancing at him; Misha had already taken his shirt off, his broad muscular chest made his curious eyes stay longer than he intended, and quickly, suddenly shy, Joni forced himself to look away. His gaze, however, hadn’t gone unnoticed by Misha, who grinned.
”You sure? It would be no trouble.” He said, stripping himself further; Joni glanced at him and almost blushed at the state of his…nakedness… It made him confused and distracted.
”Yes, I … hm… shower at home,” he nodded, packing his things together.
”Well, if you change your mind… I won’t take long,” Misha said, taking his towel and shower gel, walking shamelessly past him, not bothering to cover himself with the towel.
Joni stared at the man’s backside as he headed to the showering area; he stared unable to look away and for a while, he even forgot what it was that he was doing. When Misha was out of view, when he heard the shower running, he came back to reality and wanted to slap himself for spacing out like that! He quickly walked to the bathroom; just to wash his face and armpits, then back to change before Misha would come back.
”So how about that ride?” Misha’s voice startled him.
Joni turned and saw Misha stand there dripping water, a towel wrapped around his waist.
”I decided on walking,” Joni answered, though a part of him wanted to accept the offer, yet a bigger part knew just how unwise it was; he was afraid of those old feelings rising to the surface now when he was feeling vulnerable; it would just make it more painful than it already was.
”Well, maybe some other time,” Misha shrugged, going to his locker.
”Maybe,” Joni replied and took his jacket, ready to leave, then he made the mistake of glancing at Misha again, who was happily drying his muscular, naked body with the towel; Joni couldn’t help but think the man was doing it on purpose! He looked away quickly again, distracted and confused.
”Well, I got to go. See you,” Joni muttered, took his bag, and walked toward the door trying not to hurry too much.
”See you, Joni!”
Still slightly confused, Joni walked home; Misha was acting differently towards him, why? Confusing, delightful, and yet, even slightly annoying. It wasn’t fair to confuse him like this!
What was going on?
Damn Misha… Damn him and his… nakedness!
Joni groaned, left his bag in the hall, and walked over to the bathroom where he undressed before going to the shower. Stupid Misha. He squeezed some shower gel on his hand and began washing. Stupid naked Misha, he thought again, evil…
He definitely didn’t want his foolish feelings to rise back to the surface and so he forced himself to remember the time when he had been seventeen, that day and what Misha had said, how it had hurt… but it hurt more now, Chris hurt him more. Depression slowly took over again and when he finally finished the shower, his head was aching.
He put on a bathrobe, walked to the living room, and sat down; it felt like the walls were coming down on him, he felt like he was suffocating; frustrated and alone with his troubles, the fear, the pain… He didn’t want to think, his hands trembled and he looked at the room that was bathing in the bright spring light.
He wanted to forget so badly, wash that night and morning away when his whole world had changed and brought this darkness. He was so weak… so tired of living on the edge, Chris was difficult to predict and Joni just couldn’t relax around him. He wasn’t sleeping properly; how long was it possible to go on like this?
For a moment with Misha, at the gym, he almost forgot, almost able… He leaned back, drew his knees close to his chest, and slowly the first tear rolled down on his smooth cheek.
”Stop being so weak! Stop it, dammit!” He cursed to himself with anger, bringing his hand to wipe his face and breathing deeply. He needed to think.
He had already tried to log on to Chris’ computer one day to find the pictures; it was of no use though, logging in required a password and somehow Chris had, after coming home, knowing what he had tried; thus the bruise on his arm, hips, ribs… Even if he would get to the computer Chris had copies… somewhere.
He was embarrassed, it would be humiliating if everyone saw those pictures and knew he had been stuck in this abusive relationship; how could he tell his family what Chris had done to him? Or tell anyone for that matter? He rubbed his forehead, he wanted to find a way out, quietly, then… then be like before, and forget, somehow?
But even if he found a way to destroy the pictures, he knew Chris still wouldn’t let him go so easily. He was scared of what the man could do to him and, on the other hand, each time Chris assured him he would never hurt him again, Joni wanted to believe him, wanted it to be true.
He knew, however, that nothing could ever fix their relationship to the way it once had been.
A week later, he met Misha again at the gym. Joni tilted his head with a bit of curiosity when he saw the man approaching the warm-up equipment; he took his one earphone off.
”Day off again?” He enquired.
”Lunch break,” Misha smiled.
”Normal people would go have lunch, you know,” Joni pointed out to which Misha chuckled.
”If you are concerned about me skipping my lunch, I assure you that’s not the case, I intend to eat at the café here before going back to work,” he smiled and decided to warm up on the rowing machine this time.
”Fascinating,” Joni sighed.
”Ah, and you have your period again, do you?” Misha asked amused.
Joni glared at him, ”Excuse me?”
”You seem moody,” Misha clarified.
”Do I indeed?” Joni rolled his eyes, slightly annoyed; this was his one moment of relaxation and now apparently it would be ruined by Misha following him around for some fucked up reason.
”Well, perhaps it’s the teenage hormones,” Misha pondered and started working out.
Again Joni glared at him, ”Perhaps it’s just me finding it odd that you suddenly appear here at the same hour as me?”
”Free country?” Misha shrugged and then sighed, ”Again, I thought we had put the past behind us and that we could chat? But if you want me to leave…”
Joni sighed, ”It’s okay, I’m just tired.”
”Yes, I noticed you look quite tired, something bothering you? Everything okay?” Misha inquired.
Joni frowned, he didn’t like Misha telling him he looked tired or asking these questions.
”Why do you care? I’m fine, just didn’t sleep well.” Joni spoke with an annoyed tone.
”Again, just trying to have a chat with you,” he sighed, ”no reason to get so defensive.”
”I’m not defensive,” Joni muttered staring at the TV screen.
”Whatever, brat,” it just slipped out. ”Eh sorry, Joni, old habits… you know?” He said sheepishly. Joni gave him an even nastier glare and decided his muscles were warm enough, without a word he hopped down and strode towards the other machines downstairs.
Misha sighed; brilliant. Such a moody brat.
He waited five minutes before he followed Joni downstairs.
”So you are following me?” Joni asked, narrowing his eyes when Misha was approaching.
”Oh, come on, you can’t be that mad about the brat comment?” Misha rolled his eyes, again choosing an exercise machine next to him.
Joni’s lips tightened. ”You know so far these moments at the gym were my favorite time of the day and now you’re trying to ruin them,” he accused.
”By calling you a brat?” Misha somehow found it amusing how pissed off Joni was looking, he looked somehow disturbingly cute pouting like that.
”By you… yes, by calling me a brat and by your ’oh I’m so great big Russian, oh worship me everyone’ attitude!”
Misha raised his brow, ”You sure you don’t have your period?”
”You are so annoying!” Joni huffed and got up, going further away from him.
Misha continued what he was doing, calmly and without hurry, again deciding to let the brat calm down first.
He moved closer to where he younger man was doing sit-ups.
”Joni, look, I’m sorry… would you like to have a cup of coffee after? I can buy you lunch too if you’re hungry.”
Joni sat up looking at him warily almost.
”I didn’t mean to make you upset,” Misha said calmly, looking down at him.
”You know, if it was Ivo it would be cute, but not from you.”
Misha gave him a puzzled look, ”What does Ivo have to do with this?”
”I just realized that you and Ivo have similar qualities, but while he is nice, you… you are just annoying and stuck up.”
Joni sighed, ”Fine, you can buy me lunch.”
Misha smiled, nodded, and again sat down close to him; Joni continued what he had been doing, at times glaring at Misha.
They went to the changing room at the same time and this time Joni seemed prepared to take a shower as well.
Misha found himself glancing at Joni from time to time when he was undressing; Joni’s back was turned against him and his eyes travelled down on his gorgeous figure. He told himself that he was looking for signs of new bruises, but saw none and still found it difficult to look a way.
Joni finished undressing, wrapped his towel around his waist, took his shower gel, and turned just in time to notice Misha quickly looking away from him and continuing to undress. Joni didn’t say anything as he moved past into the shower room.
”So what would you like?” Misha asked once they arrived at the cafe, Joni looked at the lunch menu; soups, salads, sandwiches…
”Just some sandwich I guess… Hm, a chicken sandwich,” he decided, ”and… mineral water.”
Misha smiled, ”Ok, you can go sit down, I get them.”
Joni glanced at him, nodded, and went to take a seat at a table in front, next to the window; he reached for a napkin and started to play with it while looking out.
”And here we go,” Misha returned a few minutes later and sat down, placing the tray on the table.
Joni reached for his drink, looking at the tray.
”I took the liberty of ordering you some soup as well, she should bring it soon,” Misha said unwrapping his sandwich, and looking at Joni.
”Oh… thanks,” Joni tilted his head, taking a sip of the water, watching Misha.
”Something on my face?” The man grinned before taking a healthy bite, still watching him in a way that made Joni look down and shake his head.
”No, just… trying to figure you out I guess,” Joni answered, lifting his gaze back to him.
”Oh?” Misha continued to look at him and then gestured towards Joni’s still untouched sandwich. ”Eat up,” he said, and slowly Joni reached to take it. ”So you’re trying to figure me out?”
”Yes. I’m not used to you being nice to me, it feels weird,” Joni answered and just then the waitress brought them their soup; Misha looked up at her, smiled, and thanked her.
”Enjoy your meal,” she said blushing slightly as her eyes devoured Misha’s handsome form for a moment before leaving.
”I do see the errors of my past behavior, like I said,” Misha answered, ”guess I’m trying to make it up to you.”
Joni nodded, sipped his drink, and started to eat.
”So your boyfriend… he… what was it that he does for a living?” Misha asked.
”He’s a game designer,” Joni answered, glancing at him.
”And how has he settled living here?”
Joni shrugged and stared at his plate. ”Alright, I guess. of course he misses his friends, but…” He took another spoon full, not knowing what else to say.
Misha stared at Joni silently for a while, ”He’s quite many years older than you, isn’t he?”
Joni looked at Misha and frowned, ”eight years isn’t really bad.”
”Depends how you look at it,” Misha answered, ”nineteen and twenty-seven? Well, I’d imagine the world can be quite different, I mean personal interests and such.”
”Well, you seem to think that even four years difference makes you so much wiser than me,” Joni snorted, ”So I guess it’s about who looks at it.” He glared at him, ”Besides I’m turning twenty soon enough so you can cut the teenage crap.”
Misha watched him, shook his head amusedly, ”Oh yes, being twenty makes the world of difference,” he grinned. ”And it’s four and a half by the way, my birthday is in January.” He couldn’t help but to add with a teasing tone that made Joni roll his eyes.
”I’m starting to think this lunch was a mistake,” Joni said, tempted to leave the table, Misha was making fun of him?
”I’m sorry Joni, okay? I didn’t mean anything bad, forgive me?”
Joni nodded a bit stiffly and continued to eat.
”Your family accepts your relationship? I mean your dad, he-”
”No, he wasn’t happy at first,” Joni again glared at him, reminded about the Ivo incident, ”but things changed and now they are like best friends,” to which Joni rolled his eyes to hide how painful it felt, ”I sometimes think that…”
”What?” Misha asked after Joni had been silent for a while.
”Why does my relationship even interest you?” Joni asked, raising his brow, making Misha sigh.
”I consider it a normal conversation; he’s a big part of your life, isn’t he?”
Joni watched him for a while, didn’t reply, he didn’t want to continue talking about Chris.
”Why did you and your ex break up?” He decided to try and bring the conversation to Misha.
”Just didn’t work, I started to see him more as a friend than a lover, well… quite annoying friend who was calling too many times per day,” Misha grinned.
”I wonder if there’s anyone who you would consider good enough for you,” Joni said after a while.
”What makes you say that?”
”You have that attitude, you know, I think that you think you’re better than everyone else.”
Misha took a sip of his drink and then shook his head, ”No, I don’t think that,” he denied.
”Perhaps it’s not conscious,” Joni pointed out, watching him carefully, detecting amusement on Misha’s face.
”Well, I’m sorry you get that impression but I still don’t think it’s true.”
Joni smiled but didn’t continue the subject further.
He would work out more, he decided that maybe he would stop being so weak and could win his life back one day? Meanwhile, he would continue to pretend that he was fine.
Their meetings at the gym continued; whether Misha realized it or not, he had started to change his own routine to match Joni’s, who apparently liked to train in the morning or at noon, so every chance that Misha got, he went to the gym early; at his lunch hour or day off.
Even Joni found himself rather expecting to see Misha there and when the man wasn’t, he couldn’t help but feel disappointed. He didn’t tell Chris one word about these meetings, he knew he wouldn’t approve, he knew it would only anger him and he considered the risk of getting caught very slim.
Finding it difficult to concentrate on studying at home, Joni had also started to go to the library during the days that Chris was working at home. He knew Chris didn’t really like that either but had consented on the terms that he would get to drive Joni there and pick him up after two hours.
The moments alone, away from home and away from Chris were the moments Joni cherished, the moments that kept him sane, even studying had become something fun, something enjoyable.
He laid his books down on an empty table, took his notebook, pen and his… reading glasses, sighed and started working, getting lost in his project.
Misha was searching for something new to read for the weekend at the library when he suddenly spotted Joni there, sitting alone in a quiet area… studying? Misha smiled watching him from the distance, tilting his head; the boy seemed concentrated, he was wearing glasses, this was new, he had never seen glasses on him before. Actually, he looked quite sexy like that, intelligent and disturbingly hot.
He heard quiet giggling and whispers and saw two teenage girls peeking from behind one of the shelves near Joni, watching him secretly almost like he was.
”Ask him,” the other tried to encourage her friend.
”I can’t,” the other giggled nervously.
”Yes you can, go on…” Brunette girl pushed her redhead friend forwards, towards the table.
Joni looked up when sensing someone approaching. He looked at the short red headed girl, who bit her lip and blushed slightly.
”You’re the model right?…Joni Lehto?” she asked, wriggling a book in her hands.
”Yeah?” Joni was slightly surprised.
”Um… would it be possible… to get your autograph?” She was still blushing, ”I have a pen and paper here, I’m your fan, you see,” she explained.
” Eh, s-sure…” Fan? It just felt bizarre, not that he hadn’t heard it before but usually it was at a club by some drunk gay guy… and later Chris would have a fit because of it…But this was certainly the first time he had been asked for an autograph. He felt silly, writing his signature on a blank piece of paper.
”Can you write: to Anette?” She asked, Joni nodded, smiled and then handed the paper back to her, still feeling confused. He wondered what she would gain from having his signature.
”Thank you! I and all my friends think you’re hot… If you weren’t gay, I’d ask you out, I think it’s cool though…” She blabbered nervously, ”My brother is gay, you see, he thinks you’re hot, too,” as she spoke she got even redder. ”So he’ll be jealous when I tell him that I met you, he won’t believe me I guess, but he will now, when I have this!” she grinned.
Joni smiled, ”well, I’m… honored to hear, thank you.”
”Thanks for this,” she said and then quickly fled back to her friend, both giggled quietly and smiling at him before disappearing behind the shelves. Joni rolled his eyes, sighed and tried to continue his studying.
”Famous, are we?” Misha grinned, finally approaching Joni, who looked up surprised, smiling slightly.
”Oh my god, you are stalking me, aren’t you?” He joked watching the man with curiosity; he was carrying two books.
Misha chuckled and shook his head. ”You wish,” he said and sat down. ”Just came to pick up something to read.”
”Don’t tell me you’re about to spend your weekend reading?”
”Why not?” Misha shrugged.
”Oh, and all the horny little bottoms would weep this weekend if they knew,” Joni joked with a sigh, looking back at his notes. ”It is quite tragic.”
”Can’t please them all, need strength and rest,” Misha grinned.
Joni looked at him with a thoughtful expression, and then grinned.
”What?” Misha asked with curiosity.
”Just had a mental picture of you, with a cigar between your lips, a night cap, a red silk robe, reading a book in a dim room next to a fireplace…. It is quite amusing, perhaps a glass of brandy? Misha at the age of sixty…”
”I’m not a smoker, nor do I drink brandy,” the other chuckled.
”Ah, but you never know what the future brings,” Joni teased, tapping his pen on his notebook, ”you still have… hm… thirty-six years to learn,” he grinned.
Misha raised his brow, smiling. ”If this mental image amuses you…” He said, watching him closely, ”never seen you wear glasses before.”
Joni had almost forgotten to wear them. ”My eyes get tired and head starts to hurt and text becomes slightly blurry if I read for long periods of time, that’s why… honestly I got my first pair when I was fourteen, the eye doctor said the problem would be fixed if I use them regularly by the time I’m eighteen… Of course, then I thought I was too cool for glasses,” he chuckled.
”Of course,” Misha grinned, ”they suit you, though…”
Joni straightened on his chair, ”Makes me look important, huh?” He grinned, ”Dare I say… smart?”
Misha smiled, Joni was being quite adorable. ”Yes, kinda does… So you study at weekends, too?”
”I want to do something right, this time. My grades have gone up, I’m quite proud of it,” he nodded, then glanced at Misha. ”We have guests tomorrow though, my cousin and her husband; Chris’s friend.”
”You should be proud,” Misha smiled. ”So fun weekend ahead?” he asked.
”Well, my cousin is pregnant, she will only visit for a few hours, Adam stays for the night, our fridge is full of beer, I think I let them catch up, try to study by myself,” he nodded.
Misha tilted his head, ”Saturday night and you plan to study, interesting,” he took note; this side of Joni really did surprise him.
”I just think they have their own things to discuss about and yeah…”
”Why not go to Dima tomorrow? I know they’d be happy if you visited them.”
Joni knew Chris wouldn’t like it, Saturday night, he’d think he would go somewhere else; he’d have to stay home. ”Some other day I will,” he smiled. ”Semester ends soon anyway, tests are coming up,” he explained and checked the time; Chris would come and pick him up soon.
”Listen, I have to go, maybe I’ll see you at the gym?” He asked, collecting his things together.
”You need a ride home?” Misha asked, getting up as well.
”No, thanks though, but Chris is coming to pick me up,” Joni told him, smiled and took his glasses off, packing everything and collecting his back bag on his shoulder.
”Alright, well, see you… next week,” Misha nodded.
”I will, bye!”
”Bye,” And Misha watched Joni walk away, feeling slightly confused; his vision of Joni was changing and it felt troubling. It was troubling, because in all honesty, he couldn’t stop thinking about him.
Next afternoon they were expecting their guests to arrive. Suvi, who was seven months pregnant, wanted to have her baby in her home country and so both would spend the following summer in Finland. Suvi would later drive over to her other relatives, while Adam would stay to spend time with Chris.
Joni hoped that somehow Adam’s visit would be positive, would help Chris, and make him more normal, because it seemed he was only beginning to get more paranoid and cruel towards him. It was a little after four in the afternoon when their doorbell rang. Chris glanced at Joni as he walked towards the door; a look that would tell him to behave and remember his place. He was curious to see his friend after a long time, curious of how he would be doing.
It was Suvi who walked in first, ”Hi, hi, the whale is here!” She giggled, reaching to give Chris a brief hug before going to her cousin and wrapping her arms around him. ”Oh, I missed you!” she exclaimed.
”Well now, aren’t I big?” she asked, tapping her stomach happily.
Joni smiled softly at her, ”You look wonderful,” he assured and indeed she did; healthy, pregnant and happy.
Adam walked in after her, greeted his friend and then helped his young wife remove her coat.
”Most beautiful woman on earth I believe, I love her big pregnant belly,” he stated proudly, brushing his hand softly against it.
”Whoa, you sure it’s not going to be twins?! Chris asked, teasing, ”And please, come in and make yourself comfortable.”
”Oh, thank gods no!” Suvi laughed. ”One will do for now!” she added before walking towards the living room, the men following her. Suvi sat down and Adam sat next to her.
”Oh, but it’s truly good to see you both, it’s been too long,” she smiled looking at Joni and then at Chris. ”How are you two?”
Chris shrugged wrapping his arm around Joni. ”You know, as usual,” the man said and brushed his lips against Joni’s cheek. ”I guess we’re doing great but you’re more interesting now,” he winked at Suvi. ”You want anything to drink? What can you drink?”
”Hm, I’d like some juice or lemonade if you have any?” Suvi asked, rubbing her belly. ”And if you guys want to have beer, I don’t mind,” she grinned.
”I think we have some apple juice, is that okay?” Joni asked and got up slowly, sort of glad to have an excuse to escape from Chris’ embrace.
”Yes, thank you.”
”And you Adam?”
”Well since the wife doesn’t mind, beer would be great if you have some?”
”Oh, I assure you plenty of beer, I supplied us nicely,” Chris grinned as Joni walked towards the kitchen. ”So dad… is it a boy or a girl? Or didn’t you ask?”
Adam placed his hand on Suvi’s stomach, stroking tenderly, ”It’s a boy,” he answered, ”next we’ll try for a girl,” he grinned.
”Oh, you will have to wait for that a little while, once I recover from this!” she giggled. ”This man would want to fill me up with babies, he’s gone quite insane, I’d settle for two,” she added in a joking tone, looking at Chris.
”Ah, but you’ll change your mind, I want my football team,” Adam teased before kissing her softly, just as Joni was returning.
Chris shook his head, he really couldn’t get why his friend was so much into kids; they were too loud for his liking.
”I think Suvi is right, you’ll be happy with two, one will be loud enough I think.”
”Exactly,” Suvi nodded and smiled at Joni who served her a glass of juice. ”Thank you,” she said, sipping the cold drink. Joni gave the beer to Adam and then hesitantly looked at Chris.
”Would you like one too?”
”Thank you Joni, I can get myself one, but thanks for remembering,” he smiled gently at the youth then turned to his friend. ”How often have you been around infants Adam, honestly.”
”Well, they’re cute, I always dreamed of a big family,” Adam nodded.
”And I can’t wait to see if you say the same thing when we have this one; all those night awakenings and poopy diapers,” Suvi snickered and added with a joking tone; ”Oh Jesus, why did I agree to this?”
Joni returned again from the kitchen and gave Chris his beer before sitting down next to him holding his own, leaving some space between them this time.
”Thank you, Joni,” Chris nodded, opening the beer and taking a sip. ”I bet he’ll change his mind about the second after like… first week, trust me Suvi, he’s all happy now when he’s not the one who’ll have to deliver the baby and later feed him,” Chris winked at Adam grinning.
”Come on, I know it won’t be all roses, have some faith in me!” Adam chuckled.
It was close to six when Suvi said she should go to her other relatives from her mother’s side.
”It was really good to see you both,” she smiled, ”and I hope we can see each other again this summer. You should visit the north some weekend?” She suggested and Joni smiled softly.
”We’ll see what we can do,” he whispered and hugged her.
”Are you sure you’re alright? You’ve been awfully quiet this evening,” Suvi asked in Finnish this time.
”Yes, just tired… school work, you know.”
”Alright then,” she looked at Chris then, ”Now don’t make my hubby drink too much, I want him back in one piece,” she grinned.
”Of course,” he assured, hugging her gently so as not to harm her pregnant belly, ”you take care of yourself girl, you look great.”
”Thank you, and take care of Joni, he’s too tired!” Suvi pointed out.
”He just studies so hard,” Chris smiled, pulling Joni close.
”Alright, you boys have a nice evening now,” she smiled and kissed Adam, ”I’ll see you tomorrow.”
”Thanks honey, and drive carefully, love you.”
”Love you too,” again a small kiss on Adam’s cheek, ”bye now!”
”You’re a humping bunny,” Chris teased patting Adam’s shoulder after Suvi had left. ”Never thought you’d be seriously that much of a family man,” he took a note leading his friend back to the living room.
”Looks can deceive I guess. Well, I just love her; I want a family with her more than anything,” Adam grinned. ”Could use another beer, seriously been sober too long,” he joked.
”Sure, Joni, babe, get us some beer will you?” Chris called sitting down.
Joni bit his lip, remained silent and walked to the kitchen soon returning with a couple of beers. Adam gave a curious look to the boy; he did seem quiet, not like he remembered him.
”I think I’ll go and work with some school papers,” Joni said then.
”Good, why don’t you?” Chris nodded, not really looking at him and reached for a can.
”School papers on Saturday?” Adam asked surprised, ”I think you could afford to relax.”
”If he wants to graduate some day, he has to work for it,” Chris shrugged, honestly wanting to talk with his friend and not have Joni in the same room.
”Lots of things to do,” Joni nodded quietly before disappearing in the bedroom; Adam couldn’t help but get the feeling that the two perhaps weren’t so happy after all.
The evening passed, Chris was drowning beer faster than his friend, but both of them were starting to get slightly drunk. At first their conversations were more of sports, events in Canada and Suvi and the baby she would be having, before coming back to Chris.
”So you still like living here?” Adam asked, sipping what must have been his fifth or sixth beer.
Chris stretched on his seat and nodded. ”Yeah, though I miss Canada more often lately.”
”Oh?” Adam raised his brow, ”I suppose it is natural though, I know Suvi misses here too at times, now she’s happy because of a longer visit. Have you made any new friends yet?”
”Yeah, with a bunch of teenagers or empty head models? Come on, Adam, it’s the only sort of people I meet here. My co-workers are all married or with girlfriends, geeks and boring and with no skills of small talk… It’s a nightmare,” he sighed.
”I’m sorry to hear…” Adam started, ”you and Joni are doing good though?” He asked with a quiet whisper, hoping to get a positive answer.
Chris took a sip of his beer before answering. ”We did, we used to.”
”Something happened?” Adam asked worriedly.
Again Chris was quiet, took a few more sips of his beer taking time before answering, staring blankly ahead, then at his friend. ”I think he’s seeing someone.”
Adam tilted his head, glancing towards the bedroom; Chris didn’t really make any effort of lowering his voice and the walls couldn’t be that thick. ”Why do you think that?” Adam whispered.
Chris shrugged. ”He’s always having those meetings, gym at certain hour and comes back in that mood, all cheerful like a stupid girl.”
”Maybe you’re just imagining it?” Adam tried to reason, ”I don’t think he would do that to you… perhaps this… homesickness of yours just makes your imagination run wild?”
Chris rolled his eyes. ”Come on, Adam, I’m not blind and I’m not fucking stupid! Just look at Joni; he’s the hottest stuff I’ve seen; it was a matter of time. A guy like me is not good enough for him, you should have seen his room when I first arrived, he had everything! He’s used to having everything; he’s spoiled!” Chris said, narrowing his eyes as he glanced towards the bedroom.
Adam felt uncomfortable and worried, this definitely didn’t sound good; he knew Chris had a jealous tendency and Joni was still hiding in the bedroom.
”So you really think he’s seeing someone else?” he whispered.
Chris nodded playing with the can. ”Guess I’m not good enough anymore,” he chuckled bitterly.
”Surely not, cheer up old mate,” Adam smiled. ”He’s here now and I’m sure he loves you. You should just talk together, you know a romantic weekend away somewhere, perhaps?”
Chris threw the empty can away and took the next one. ”Romantic weekend, my ass. He would start whining that he has photo shoots and has to come back; his best excuse!”
It felt weird that Chris didn’t seem to care if Joni heard and on the other hand the boy didn’t come out of the bedroom either.
”Come on Chris, have you really talked with him? About what’s going on?”
Chris took a deep breath and stared at the ceiling. ”How do you imagine that, Adam, me walking in there and saying, ’hi, are you screwing around with some other fucker?’ Don’t be silly.”
”It doesn’t have to be like that,” Adam reasoned, ”you have to talk and solve things if it bothers you or then return to Canada if it’s not working.”
Chris glared at his friend, ”look, I don’t want to give him up, but it’s pissing me off that he’s such a slut!” He spoke looking towards the bedroom again.
Adam was slightly taken back, ”Chris… he can hear you,” he whispered in surprise not knowing what else to say.
”So?” Chris raised his brow taking another sip, ”like I care if he does, I didn’t call him a whore, did I?”
Joni stared at the computer screen, his eyes glimmering, lower lip slightly trembling; he could easily hear everything that Chris said and it was humiliating. He didn’t know what to do, he hadn’t thought Chris would speak so openly to Adam. He couldn’t stand this, didn’t want to be there and listen… He didn’t want his life to be like this, he wanted the old Chris back, wanted to erase everything and for it to be like it had been before.
Each moment it got more difficult to just sit there and listen, it felt difficult to breathe; carefully he stood up; needed to get away.
He walked towards the hall, reaching to take his jacket.
”Where do you think you’re going?” Chris snarled watching him with narrowed eyes, he left his beer can on the table and walked towards him, making Joni turn in fright.
”I need a walk…” He said managing to keep his voice even.
”A walk? You’re going to see that man, aren’t you?” Chris asked reaching to take a hold of his shirt.
”No, there’s no one… I just don’t want to be here and listen when…”
”When I’m telling the truth about you, slut?”
Adam walked towards them, not liking what he was witnessing.
”Chris, let go of him…” He asked.
Joni managed to pull himself free and walked towards the kitchen just to get away from Chris, knowing he was more aggressive when drunk. Chris followed.
”Admit it Joni, you have someone else,” Chris demanded.
”No, I don’t!”
”You’re seeing someone at that fucking gym?!”
Joni wrapped his arms around him and shook his head, shocked.
”Admit, I’m not fucking good enough for you, that’s it?!”
”No, Chris… I was just going for a walk…”
”He called you, didn’t he?” Chris narrowed his eyes, pulling him close again by his arm.
Adam had followed them in the kitchen, noticing how scared Joni looked and how upset Chris was, he lowered his hand on his friend’s shoulder.
”Calm down Chris, let go…”
Chris turned his head to his friend almost as if surprised to see him there, he looked back at Joni, slowly letting go of him, realizing how close he had been to snapping completely and slapping him. For a moment his anger had made him forget about Adam, these moments of not controlling himself were beginning to happen too often.
”I need a smoke…” He said quietly and walked away from the kitchen towards the balcony.
Joni heard the balcony door open and close; unconsciously he brought his hand to rub his sore arm while Adam gave him a look of concern.
”What’s going on here?” He asked carefully; Joni almost looked a little bewildered, he shook his head and looked away. ”Do you fight often like this?” Adam asked.
”He thinks I’m cheating on him, I’m not…” Joni whispered, looking at Adam, ”I’m really not. You believe me, don’t you?” he pleaded. Adam nodded slowly, glancing towards the entrance of the kitchen, before back at Joni.
”You’re okay though?” he asked then, he didn’t really want to believe that Chris would… harm Joni, but seeing what he had and knowing what kind of family background Chris had…”He hasn’t… hurt you, has he?” he asked, looking carefully at the boy.
Joni was quiet for a moment. He imagined himself telling Adam, wondering of the possibility of saying those words out, would Adam help? Was it a trick? Chris would get mad at him, Adam was Chris’ friend, and would he really help? But at the same time Adam was also married to his cousin, they were happy, Suvi was happy, Adam wasn’t like Chris…
”I-” He started hesitantly, but at that same moment Chris appeared at the doorway.
”Joni, I’m sorry… I lost my temper…” He sighed, almost looking embarrassed. ”Forgive me?” He asked carefully, approaching, ”I was being horrible to you…” He continued and when Adam made way, he closed the distance and tenderly touched Joni’s cheek, his arm, ”I’m sorry, love,” he managed to sound sincere, his eyes holding some sadness in them when he leaned closer to almost hesitantly brush his lips against his.
Joni felt confusion take over, for a moment his mind was battling over what to do, something inside him wanted to believe that Chris was genuinely sorry, that… he could change and on the other hand… he knew it couldn’t be that easy. For that moment hope mixing with fear conquered sense. He nodded carefully; maybe Chris wouldn’t hurt him if he agreed?
”It’s okay…” He whispered and part of him screamed at himself for being so weak and stupid! For being too scared to speak up, those words, they just weren’t so easy to voice.
”Thank you…” Chris smiled and kissed him. ”Come and sit with us now, enough school work for today, right?” He tenderly brushed his hair back, Joni swallowed, nodding. He didn’t know what to do; easier to stay silent, that’s how it felt.
Adam followed the two back to the living room, deep down perhaps he knew everything wasn’t alright, perhaps… but Chris was his friend, he didn’t really want to think of him as capable of doing something harmful to Joni, to anyone. It was easier to forget what he had seen and heard and focus on how tender and apologetic Chris seemed now towards Joni.
Yes, it felt easier to close ones eyes to the doubt.