It’s 7:30 AM and Lleyton has things to do.
(excuses to make. Why did you stay overnight--why didn’t you come home? Impossible questions with impossible answers and when he checks his phone he has a 7:15 missed call from Bec.)
One of those things isn’t counting all the places silver meets blue in the swirls of hotel wallpaper while listening to Jim banging around in the background. Cursing. Spilling water. Lleyton hears a bang and an, “oh goddammit," and he wants to look and see but, really, the hotel wallpaper is interesting.
Five minutes later he smells the first drifting scents of Jim's sugary coffee when his phone vibrates for the second time in his hand. Bec deserves answers he can't give so he slides the phone beneath the pillow and says, "You didn't pour sugar in the pot again, did you?"
Somewhere in between the time he looks away from the wall to train his eyes on the ripple of shoulders beneath unflattering maroon fabric Jim says, "There's nothing wrong with a little bit of sugar, you know. Otherwise it's like drinking motor oil."
Lletyon laughs because, yeah, that's how it works. Jim can make him laugh when he feels so guilty it's like a weight has settled on his chest. A weight that's shaped sort of like Mia when she plays with her spoon in the morning, flicking little pieces of her eggs until they land in his coffee and she stumbles over a 'sorry, daddy' and he really needs to be home. He needs to be home and he thinks about grabbing his phone from beneath the pillow and calling and saying I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but then the bed shifts and Jim's sitting with his hip against his stomach and he smells so good and he pushes the warm ceramic of a cup into his hand and
Lleyton breaths and the weight eases a little. Like rust knocking off of gears and sputtering to life a long asleep machine. Jim's hand is on his shoulder, fingers coffee-warm where the flutter against his skin, a smooth unbroken pull of skin against skin across his shoulder, dipping to the hollow of his throat, up to press against his chin, flitting across his jaw and when Jim's fingers finally drag slow through his hair, Lleyton closes his eyes.
"Did you call her yet?" Jim asks because Jim would know. He knows everything, even things he sometimes doesn't mean to, and Lletyon shakes his head. "Do it before you develop guilt complex number nine million seven hundred and twenty thousand."
Lleyton smiles, just a little, and when he grabs his phone he grabs Jim fingers, too.
It's really a surprise when a picture doesn't rock off the wall when Lleyton slams the door. The sound vibrates on the walls, rattling a generic vase of flowers an inch or two closer to the edge of the table, but Jim doesn't look up from the book in his lap. It's enough to make Lletyon angrier, to set a pinker flush to his face, a whiter tent to his knuckles when his fists ball tighter.
Lips moving silently with words printed on pages, flash of his tongue against his thumb before he turns the page. Lleyton's fists cracks thunder-loud against the wall and it sends a tingling sort of numb through his arm. For a second he thinks he might have accidentally broken something and he yelps and then Jim really does stand up, book falling in a flutter of pages from his lap and, "idiot," he mutters, probing suddenly sore muscle with unkind fingers. "You're going to fuck up your season because you're mad at me? That's how it works now?"
Hotel walls -- even ones that cost $1500 a night -- don't provide a lot of quiet so Lleyton lowers his voice, harsh, spitting whisper of, "who is he?"
Jim sighs, a condescending sound, and if his wrist didn't hurt so much Lleyton thinks he might take a swing. Or twelve. Instead he asks, "who is he?" again when Jim moves away. Watches him snag a cloth from the bathroom, watches him pack it full of ice, watches him press it against his quickly swelling wrist.
"Lucky for you it's probably not broken. Probably. Go see a trainer if the swelling doesn't go down in an hour. Idiot."
"Stop dancing around the fucking subject and answer me."
"A friend!" Jim doesn't yell a lot -- at least not anymore -- and so when he does Lleyton's a little startled. Startled into sulking, angry silence at least. "Someone I met a long time ago. You know, you're a real piece of work. Of all people to pull the jealousy card--"
"There's a difference," Lleyton hisses, speaking between clenched teeth, and the fingers attached to the wrist that doesn't throb with a doll ache find the front of Jim's shirt. Holds tight and pulls and Jim could fight against him but he comes easy enough, stands almost chest to chest with him and his breath mingles with Jim's when he continues, when he says, "don't you dare compare my situation with you spending the day, hip to hip, with some French bastard and you can't even tell me his fucking name."
Lleyton counts the seconds in silence.
"An ex-boyfriend," Jim says, "he's an ex-boyfriend. I met him in '94, he broke up with me in '99. Do you want all the details? You want all the details of everyone else I've ever been with? I can write a novel for you, if you want."
This hasn't happened before. Jim usually shows his stomach, not his teeth. Lletyon lets go of his shirt, steps back. "Fuck you," he says, deflated, and he doesn't slam the door when he leaves.
Bump of his hip against the sharp edge of a table -- table's shouldn't be that tall, he thinks, fleeting, because Jim's mouth is doing all kinds of things to the skin of his shoulder. It's an electric combination of slick mouth and scraping teeth and lapping tongue and all the air in Lleyton's lung rushes out, crackling in the air and it sounds a lot like an endless stream of whimpering and maybe, just maybe, the sound of Jim's name.
Bec says, "I'm sorry," but really she isn't. Lleyton watches the careful, precise way she lines her eyes with smoky black. It always made his eyes itch, imagining the thick way it must feel, how awkward it would be to rub your eyes and pull away with smears of black on your fingers and beneath your eyes. He couldn't do it, but Bec did it flawlessly. Makeup and the ruffles of a crème colored skirt and the snapping click of her shoes against the floor. She kisses his cheek. She adjusts the collar of his shirt. She smiles and says, "I imagine she'll let you know in about an hour what she wants for lunch."
Jim's in town. He's sitting, across town, in a hotel. He's waiting on a call Jim can't make now because Bec has to go to God knows where to do God knows what and all Lleyton can do is smile and walk her to the door, kiss her goodbye and hold Mia up to get her own, and then he waits. Waits until Bec is long gone and Mia is sitting in front of the television, mashing bananas with her tiny fingers, and he calls Jim.
"I can't come--"
"I know where you live." Jim hangs up before he can say no, don't, Mia's here.
He wouldn't have listened anyway.
And that's why Lleyton spends the afternoon on the couch, watching Jim with Mia. Watching them play patty cake and share mashed bananas and watching the effortless way Jim lets her settle into his lap, reading to her from one of the dozens of hard, colored books that litter the floor. It's breath taking and unsettling at once and when Mia's asleep, down for her afternoon nap, Lletyon says, "I didn't know you were good with kids."
When Jim says, "I'm good with anything involving you," it fits in the way hokey, romantic bullshit just does when it's true.
It's not easy to get bored during a Grand Slam unless it's Wimbledon, when the rain decides to lash heavy against the window and trap the players inside, away from the courts, away from any activity that doesn't come with a press microphone in your face or the keys of a keyboard or the weighty feeling of a game controller in your hand.
Lletyon decides that, for twenty-four hours, he's going to hate the internet and video games and people whose names don't start in J and end in im and that's how he winds up playing some half-assed game of poker with skewered rules; for some reason, Jim gets to bet money while Lleyton is forced to give up his clothes.
"That's fucking ridiculous, mate," he snaps when Jim somehow comes up with pocket Aces -- a second for the current string of games, a rarity period -- and Jim grins and shuffles the cards in his hands. Smacks them down on the table and cracks his knuckles and says,
"I hope you shaved your chest because I want the shirt."
There's pointless protests, cheating accusations, but somehow Lletyon's shirt winds up smacking Jim in the face and finally settles, draped around his shoulders.
"I'm going for the pants next," Jim says, cards flashing across the table as he deals, fingers nimble on the cards and Lleyton grumbles again.
At least he knows he has something to look forward to if he loses another hand.