Crossville, TN

When he opened the front door, Seth was greeted by a waft of old food and body spray.  Tom was splayed out on the couch in red sweatpants and a white T-Shirt, playing a video game. Loud bursts of noise punctuated the steady clicking of buttons.

Hey, Tom said, without looking up from the TV, How was the tech?

Um, they messed up the lighting again so I did half my songs in the dark, and the band really needs to get their shit together.  But other than that, it was good.

Huh, said Tom, distractedly.

Seth lingered awkwardly behind the couch, wanting to continue the conversation but Tom was absorbed in his game, so he walked through to the kitchen.  He was giddy and tense, he knew he should eat something. After last night, he felt himself teetering on the edge of Tom’s whim, afraid to fall, nauseous and simultaneously hopeful.

A half eaten pizza lay in a soggy cardboard box, folded on top of itself on the table, and there were dishes piled up in the sink along with a plate of spaghetti, now sauced with brown dishwater.  He went to the counter and carefully plucked a package of ramen noodles from the wreckage, and began searching for a clean pot in the cabinet below. He wondered if Ramen would make his mouth taste bad.

The house belonged to the small theater company that Tom, himself, and their four other roommates were working for.  His contract ran for nine months, and he was three months in. Only six more months of using dishes encrusted with frozen bean dip and waking up to flies buzzing around leftovers in the morning.  

Everyone in the house played video games, constantly.  The atmospheric shooting noises and dead stares of his roommates gave him a dull headache and sent him down frequent existential spirals, but he tried to mask his hatred of the pastime in an attempt at camaraderie.  

Outside of the housing situation, he was enjoying the work more than he thought he would.  When he took the job (the only one he’d been offered after an entire season of auditions) in a rural community outside of Nashville, he had been a snobby conservatory graduate, and it was embarrassing to tell his friends that he was headed South while they went to New York or Los Angeles.  But now, with most of his classmates from school waiting tables six nights a week (they tried to make it seem more glamorous than that, but he knew the reality), he was feeling grateful for the opportunity of a full time acting gig. The theater was surprisingly professional, and each time he got a paycheck it still felt like some small miracle.

Tom had arrived at the house  just a few weeks ago. He had been hired to play the lead in an upcoming show and was starting rehearsals.  The company was small, and when a new actor arrived he was usually preceded by a good-natured gossipy review from those who had worked with him before.  

He’s straight, said Khalil, pouting, but such a babe.

This is honestly such a straight company, said James.  I’m so glad I have you Khalil, I’ve never worked with so many straight people in my life.  WHERE ARE ALL THE GAYS?

Seth laughed, Sorry! Sorry, jeez. I didn’t know I was so undesirable.

Shut up, you know we love you, said Khalil

On the day that Tom arrived, Seth came back from rehearsal to find him the kitchen, waiting on a piece of toast. Seth popped his head into the doorway enthusiastically.

Hey man! You must be the new guy, he said.

Tom turned to him with a slight smile and droopy stoner eyes.  He was tall and uncomfortably handsome, with serpent-like features and broad shoulders.

Hey, he said slowly with a hint of humorous sarcasm. Yeah I’m Tom.

Seth immediately felt overeager, sweaty, and childish.  

Cool, nice to meet you. I’m Seth, Welcome.

He retreated to his room as quickly as he could, hating Tom for his faux coolness.  Why had that been so weird?

The two had hardly had a conversation since. They were working on different shows, and came in and out of the house at different times.  Tom joined the video game constituent, which pretty much rendered him a social dead zone in Seth’s eyes. Still, Seth found himself overly aware of his appearance and actions when Tom was around.  He loathed this feeling, which he picked at and analyzed like a scab.

Last night, after his rehearsal, Seth had returned to the house to find Tom hanging out with a few of the girls from his show.  They were perched on the sectional like turtles, passing around a vape pen and watching Tom play Zelda.  One of the girls, Chloe, was particularly cute.  She was rumored to have a boyfriend, but that could change. Seth was feeling wound up from rehearsal, and he sat down on the couch between Tom and one of the girls with a beer and tried to get into the spirit of the hang.

Hi and bye, said Anna, the girl seated closest to him.  I gotta get going, early rehearsal tomorrow.

I’ll come with you said Chloe, and then all three got up to leave.

Within three minutes of his arrival, Seth found himself sitting alone with Tom on the couch, full beer in hand.  Tom said nothing and continued staring at the screen.

Seth had seldom felt more disgust for gaming then he did at that moment. How infuriating that he could be seated next to a colleague at the end of a long day of rehearsals and not even be worthy of a conversation. Surely, he and Tom had something to talk about.  Acting? Music? Girls? Life in this weird fucking town? I am living among zombies, he thought.

He stared at the floor moodily, feeling sorry for himself.  

After a few moments, he noticed a subtle heat against his leg.  It was a hot pressure that he realized all at once, but must have accrued while he was lost in thought. Tom’s thigh was touching his own.  He quickly moved his leg away and looked up. Tom continued staring at the screen and pretended not to notice what had happened.

Seth took another sip of beer and felt the cold liquid loosen his tightly clenched jaw. He looked down again, and as soon as he did he felt Tom’s leg press against his own once again.

Seth didn’t move this time.  He was frozen, and burning hot at the same time.  He tried to analyze the characters (himself and Tom) in the current scene.  What was the motivation? What were the past experiences each was drawing on? what was the body language saying?  His heart was racing and he felt himself get hard.

Tom paused his game and turned to look right at him with a slight smile.

Want to fuck? He said.