Junk Novels

Next to him, Danny was smooshed up against the tiny double-paned plastic window, reading a junk novel with the cover torn off. Natalie had thrown it to him at the last minute, and now he was frowning over it and mumbling to himself. Casey sucked an ice cube and wanted more Bloody Mary mix.

Dan muttered something that sounded like "off-shore banking," and Casey leaned a little closer, rolling the ice cube on his tongue and trying to read over Dan's shoulder. Danny squirmed.

"What you got there, War and Peace?" Casey asked around his ice cube.

"I think Miranda is having an affair," Dan said, eating a pretzel.

"I think she is too," Casey agreed. "Probably with me." He reached between Dan's legs to steal a pretzel from the crinkly little mylar bag.

Dan shook his head. "You're not her type. I think it's, um, Garret or the other guy."

Casey crunched his ice cube, and then pressed the back of his hand to his cheek and grimaced at his cold teeth. "I'm not, huh?" he squeaked. "Lemme see that." He tugged at the top of the book, but Danny didn't let go.

"Did I not tell you to bring your own reading material?" Dan asked. "Answer me that. Did I not say 'you're gonna want to have something to read on the plane, Case.' Did I not?"

"You did," Casey said. "And I do." He tugged at Danny's book again.

"This is my book," Danny insisted, leaning into him so that he pinned Casey's elbow between them.

Casey wiggled his fingers. "That is not your book. That is Natalie's book, a stripped book might I add, which means she didn't pay for it, so it's not even technically hers."

"Ooh," Dan said. "Something shocking just happened on page 74."

Casey stopped pulling on the book and tilted it so he could see too. "What?"

"I don't know," Dan frowned, "but Carly was definitely shocked."

"Is Carly having an affair with me?" Casey asked. "Oh, maybe Carly's having an affair with Miranda! Now, that's a book I'll read." He kicked Danny's ankle twice with his toe.

Dan shushed him. "I'm trying to figure out why Carly's shocked. Wait! Who's Gilbert? Gilbert did something." Dan flipped to the back of the book, probably looking for a family tree or a who's who, but all he got was an offer to win a trip to Manhattan for New Year's Eve. The little form had expired in April of 1989.

Casey stretched out his legs, pointing his toes so he could hook them under the seat in front of him. He pushed the little button to make his chair recline, and he closed his eyes and ate his stolen pretzel. "Read to me," he said, crossing his arms and snuggling back into the fake leather seat.

"I'm not gonna read to you," Dan said, grabbing a copy of the inflight magazine and tossing it into Casey's lap. "Why don't you learn about the safety exits instead."

Grumbling, Casey shoved the magazine back into the seat pouch and then leaned back against Danny's shoulder and closed his eyes again. "Come on, Danny. Tell me about Carly and Gilbert and Biff."

"Nope," Dan said happily, undefeated by the loss of the inflight magazine. He plucked the airline safety card from the mesh pouch and poked it between Casey's knees. "You'd be totally lost, my friend. Unable to comprehend the subtle nuances of character and circumstance. For instance, you have no idea who Miranda's mother is."

"You probably don't know who Miranda's mother is either."

"But at least I'm willing to learn. Now be a good boy and read your safety card."

Casey opened one eye and looked down at the laminated safety triptych. "This doesn't have any words," he said. "I can't read this. There aren't any words."

"You're ostensibly a writer," Dan said, scooting back a little bit and pulling up his knees toward his chest. "Write some words."

"You want me to caption the safety card," Casey said. "And I suppose some poor Thai tourist will have you to blame when he looks at this thing and thinks he's missing something, and doesn't know what to do when his 757 goes crashing into the sea?"

"Two things," Danny said, closing the book around his index finger. "We're not flying over any sea. Seas are, like, in Asia. Here we have oceans and some fairly big lakes. And two--"

"What was one?"

"The sea was one."

Casey smirked. "Okay," he said. "You didn't say, so, you know, I wasn't sure."

"And two," Danny said. "You can't say 'plane crash' on a plane."

"I can't say 'plane crash' on a plane?" Casey said wonderingly.

"No," Danny said, making simmer-down motions with his hands.

"On a plane, I can't say 'plane crash'?" Casey said again, rolling the words around.

Dan clapped a hand over Casey's mouth and got in real close until all Casey could see of him was one eye.

"You're gonna jinx us, man. Plus," Danny gestured with his head, "that guy in the next row is staring at you."

"Oh, and he's not staring now?" Casey tried to say.

"I'm serious, man," Danny said. "This is definitely, we're tempting fate. I'm just saying. Don't tempt fate."

"I think you need to stop reading that book," Casey said, putting a hand out. "Give it to me. It's blowing your sense of melodrama way out of proportion. You're like a tiny, drunken drama queen over here."

Danny grinned and flopped back into his seat. "I'm neither tiny nor drunken."

"I know, mostly I wanted to say 'tiny, drunken drama queen.' Now, we have six hours left in this plane. You'd better share that book."

"Norma's sleeping with her son's best friend," Danny reported, re-opening the novel. "His name is Danny."

"Is her son named Casey?" Casey said, trying to be flippant but then blushing.

"Her son's name is Juan," Danny said. "I think he was adopted. Oh, no, maybe not."

"And Juan's sleeping with Danny?"

"No, Norma's sleeping with Danny," Danny said.

Casey scoffed. "That's not that interesting," he said. "Now, if JUAN were sleeping with Danny..."

"It's not that kind of book," Dan said.

"I'm getting that," Casey said. "None of the good people sleep with Danny. What a shame. No wonder Natalie got it for free."

Dan harrumphed. "Who do you think should sleep with Danny? Norma is very -- whoa!"

"What?" Casey asked.

"Flexible," Dan said, clearing his throat.

Casey gave Dan a knowing look. "Ah ha, so it's one of those books."

Dan had one eye squeezed shut and was reading with the other. "So it would seem."

"I'll bet Juan is flexible," Casey said stubbornly. "He probably plays lacrosse."

"What's this with you and Juan all of a sudden?" Dan looked interested for a second, and then turned his attention back to whatever it was Norma was doing.

"I played lacrosse," Casey said.

"No you didn't, and shh for a second, let her -- oh," Danny closed the book around his finger again. "Never mind."

"What did she do?"

"Her husband came home," Danny said.

"Shame," Casey said. "Now, if Danny had been with Juan, they wouldn't have that problem."

"Juan's at camp," Danny said.

"Lacrosse camp? And just how old are these kids? I'm not even sure if --"

"He's a counselor. I think it's deaf kids. It's something kids, anyhow. Someone won something. It happened in the last book."

"Oh, man, don't tell me you've read other books in this series," Casey said.

"No, I'm extrapolating. Based on the evidence."

"You're very clever," Casey said.

"It sucks that her husband came home," Danny said.

"Yeah," Casey agreed.

Danny looked up at Casey for a second. "Yeah. He should have been with Juan."

"Maybe he'll go to lacrosse camp," Casey said.

Dan looked strange and dubious. "Maybe. I'm not sure it works that way in this book. What with the deaf kids and the guy who sells pianos. Oh, and then whatshername and the restaurant. I think it's owned by the guy who killed Miranda's father."

Casey held up a hand. "Yeah, that's way too complicated for me right there. I was pretty happy over here with sexy flexible Juan getting it on with Danny."

Dan made a little sound. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, there's no worrying about pianos or Miranda--"

"Miranda!" Danny exclaimed, opening the book again. "I think Miranda and the piano guy. Or. Not the piano guy, but the...pianist? The piano tuner?"

"You see what I'm saying? Way too confusing. What we need is just a nice, simple story about Danny and Juan, sneaking around town, trying to avoid the country club set. Because, imagine the scandal. And Danny's, like, the son of a senator or something."

Danny grabbed Casey's thigh. "Oh! The senator! Miranda's sleeping with the senator! No, dammit! Miranda's married to the senator." Dan eyed the AirFone. "What time is it? Where are we? Is Natalie at the office? I need to know who Miranda's sleeping with."

"You're certifiable," Casey said. "You understand that, right?"

"Not all of us are sleeping with Sally Sasser," Danny pointed out. "Some of us have to turn to literary endeavors to experience that kind of torrid sexual stuntwork."


"Let's just say she's very tall."

"Miranda?" Casey wondered where the pretzels had gone.

"Sally Sasser. Oh, but you know, probably Miranda too. She hid the key on top of the refrigerator. But as it turns out, she may have been standing on some sort of stool."

Casey coughed. "I'm not really sleeping with Sally anymore," he said.

"But you were, and she was tall and is tall still," Dan said, going back to his book as if that had settled everything.

"Where are the pretzels?" Casey asked, changing the subject even though the subject had already changed.

"I don't know," Dan said absently, chewing on his lip and turning the page.

"Did you eat them all?" he pestered.

Dan shook his head. "Okay. Gideon," he said.

"Gideon what?" Casey asked, looking around for the pretzels.

Dan scratched his ankle and frowned. "Gideon, something. He works at the bank. You know, HE might be gay. Since you're so interested in that now."

"I am not," Casey said. "I'm interested in Danny."

Dan didn't look up. "Danny's at camp."

"No," Casey said. "Juan is at camp. Danny's about to be taken out back and shot with a deer rifle. Norma's husband came home. You're obviously not paying attention."

"Danny's not at camp?" Dan squeaked.

"Uh, no, Squeaky Dan," Casey said.

"You're interested in Danny?"

"Purely as a literary pursuit, of course," Casey said.

"He's pretty hot," Dan said. "At least, Norma thinks so. And she's, by all accounts, the sexiest woman in La Grange."

"Sexier than Sally Sasser? Because Sally Sasser thinks I'm hot."

Now Dan looked up. "I'd say Danny was at least as hot as you are."

Casey licked his lower lip. "I'd wager even hotter."

Dan blinked. "Wait a minute, what did we just decide here?"

"That Danny is definitely hot and perhaps hotter even than myself," Casey said.

"And Danny's not at camp?" Dan made a face.

Casey sighed. "This book is clearly out of your league," he said, plucking it out of Dan's hands and opening it randomly.

"'Gideon picked up the phone with a flourish.' Oh, wow, that's just spectacular right there. You gotta wonder if the flourish was somehow necessary to him picking up the phone, I mean, did he use it like a pair of tongs?" Casey peered at the page, skimming for something interesting. "'She'd grown up now, and her hourglass figure was a far cry from the tomboy he'd known in the neighborhood.' And someone pays this woman to write this book? We should write this book. We'd be rich men, Danny."

"We already get paid to write," Dan said. "Stop reading. Case."

"'Her eyes were like limpid pools...'" Casey trailed off, laughing, as Dan yanked the book away and stuffed it in the seatback elastic. "Limpid pools, Danny."

"I need you to stop talking for a minute and talk to me for a minute," Dan said.

"Well, that sounds damn near impossible, but I'll tell you, for you, I'll try my best."

"What did you mean when you said I was hot?"

Casey swallowed. "Now, hold your horses, missy. I didn't say you were hot. I said Danny was hot."

"Yeah, but you meant me."

Casey swallowed again. "Yes."



"When did this happen?" Danny asked, looking a little dizzy.

"Happen?" Casey repeated.

"Yeah, like just now, or, I mean, did you think this before? Because Norma was flexible -- and then all of a sudden I was hot. It happened kind of fast, me becoming so unbelievably sexy."

"We're on an airplane," Casey shrugged.

"Gonna need a little more."

"Plus, yeah, you were pretty much always sexy."

Dan pressed his lower lip up toward his nose. "Okaaaay. I'm just gonna table that airplane comment for a second, because, like, it doesn't make any sense, and deal with that second part."

"I'd rather you didn't," Casey said, but he wasn't sure if he meant it. "After all, we're on an airplane."

"Yeah. Stop saying that. Casey."


"Is this, like, a thing?"

"You being sexy?" Casey waggled his eyebrows.

"Me being sexy. Is that a thing, for us, or is it just, like, an observation?"

"Just an observation," Casey said. And then, after a moment, "Mostly."


"After all, we're on an airplane."

"You gotta stop with the airplane, Case."

"It's a thing for us, what do you want from me?" Casey tried to throw his hands in the air but there was airplane everywhere.

"I want you to tell me what you mean," Dan said, slowly.

"I mean you deserve to be sleeping with someone approximately as hot as Sexy Juan."

"You mean Sexy Casey."

Casey clapped his hands on his knees. "Sexy Casey's not bad."

"Huh," Dan said, eating another pretzel.

"Is that -- what does that mean?" Casey asked nervously.

Dan licked his fingers. "Huh. I just hadn't expected that. Last I checked you were straight. Is it me, or are these pretzels inordinately salty?"

"Last you checked?"

"Dude, Sally Sasser, who, I will now take the time to tell you, is a freakishly tall mandroid and not actually sexy at all, not even a 'I fear for my life' sort of sexiness." Dan nodded.

"Where did you find those pretzels?"

Dan shrugged. "Around."

"They were just lying around."

"They were. Now they're gone. So what the hell, Casey? You're gay now?"

"I'm not gay now. It's not like, oh, I'm gay now, ooh, he thinks his partner's hot, ooh, he must be 'gay now.' I'm not 'gay now.'"

Dan crumpled the mylar pretzel bag in a fist. "Yeah, except, it kind of is, Casey. Like that."

"It is?"

"Well, seriously, man, I'm saying, if you want to be sleeping with me, that might be an insight into your sexuality."

Casey pressed a fist to his cheek as if he were giving himself an uppercut. "I can't believe we're even having this conversation."

"We're on an airplane, dude, you started it."

"I also can't believe you finished the pretzels."

Dan smirked, his lips coming to a point in an almost-Grinchy smile. "But still, you kind of want to fuck me."

Casey nodded. "I still kind of do. How about that."

"You do realize we're on an airplane?" Dan asked.

"You just said that."

"You started it," Danny said.

Casey rolled his eyes. "Believe me, I wouldn't have if I'd known this would happen."

"You wouldn't have started this if you'd known you were going to end up gay?"

"How about we talk about something else now? The inflight magazine has a stimulating article about how many pieces of carry-on luggage you can have." Casey leaned forward to grab it, and he could feel his shirt pulling away from his pants. Dan stuck a finger in the gap. Casey yelped.

Danny sighed and retrieved his novel.

"What happened there?" Casey asked. "Was that some kind of test?"

"Pants test?" Dan flipped over the book and started to read the back. There was a picture of the author in an apricot-colored jacket standing next to a big dog or a small horse.

"What do I know about pants tests, Danny? I'm asking."

"Forget it, Case."

"No, I'm asking," Casey said, clapping a hand over the back of the book and pressing it into Danny's lap. "I'm new at this."

"And you want, what, hazing? Just because I've been gay longer than you have? Take your hand out of my lap."

Casey took his hand out of Dan's lap and leaned forward again. "Do it again."


"The pants test, do it again. I'll do it right this time."

"The moment's passed, my friend," Danny said, flipping open his book.

Casey sat up and pulled the book out of Dan's hands, then slapped him upside the head with it. "You're very adorable," he said.

"I know," Danny said, nodding like he knew.

"Can we do the pants test?"

Dan smiled. "You're not ready for the pants test."

"What, I have to train for the pants test? Is there a study guide somewhere?"

"You're such an overachiever." Dan shook his head. "There's no training, Casey. You can't study for this. You have to feel it. You have to be in the zone."

"Not the zone, Danny," Casey complained. "I can never find the zone."

"You have to let it come to you. You can't rush the zone." Dan turned a page, frowned and then went back three pages. "Did we decide Gilbert was. Huh. Maybe Gilbert's his last name. Though that still doesn't make any sense."

"Is there some other test we can do? A smaller test? Like, a tie test?"

"You're not wearing a tie," Dan said without looking up.

"I've got a vivid imagination."

"No matter what I say now, this is gonna turn into Gay 101 with Dan Rydell, right here on this airplane. Am I right?" Dan sighed.

"Yes. It's a long flight. Teach me the various tests. I want to know."

Dan glanced at his book. "I don't think, I don't think Gilbert's his last name. Because people don't generally call out people's last names when they're in flagrante."

"Mulder and Scully do," Casey said.

"Mulder and Scully had sex? Why does no one tell me these things! Did you tape it?"

Casey chuckled. "Yeah, Danny. I taped it."

"You're mocking me, I suspect."

"Indeed I am."

Dan scanned the page. "No, he's got a different last name. I think something Swedish."

"I'd call out your last name while we're in flagrante," Casey said. "Here, I'll show you. Rydell! Rydell!"

They both shook their heads. "That just sounds insane," Dan said.

"It really does," Casey agreed. "I take it back."

"McCall sounds even more insane," Dan said. "Like a bird, or something. McCall! McCall!"

"Yeah, I get it," Casey said. "You can stop now."

"I was embarrassing you?"

"You were turning me on, a little," Casey admitted.

"Congratulations," Dan said. "You just passed the bird test. And Miranda just did something incredibly bizarre. I'm beginning to think she's Norma's sister."

The stewardess came by with the little trolley and Casey got another Bloody Mary. Dan smiled at her and complimented her scarf, and she blushed and gave him too many pretzels. Dan lined them up on his tray and went back to his book. "Carly, Gilbert, Miranda," he muttered. "What I need is a map, or a piece of paper. Index cards maybe. Frankfurt!"

Casey sipped his drink and studied Danny. "You made that up, didn't you? The bird test?"

"Yes," Danny said.

"Are you even listening to me?"

"Nooo," Danny said, dog-earing a page. "I think something important happened here. We'll have to come back to this as soon as we figure out who Gilbert is."

"I'm having a small sexual revolution, and you're stuck on who Gilbert is. Lemme just get that straight, then."

"Small sexual revolution," Dan muttered, patting his chest with both hands. "It's like a punk band."

"Danny!" Casey's voice and eyebrows went up.

Dan patted himself some more. "Do you have a pen?"

Casey gave him a pen. "I shouldn't be enabling your perverse habit," he said.

"You're the one having the sexual revolution," Dan said, underlining a thing. "You think Carly was at that same dinner party with Miranda's father? She can't be that old. Well, she could have been young, I guess."

Casey laughed. "I think she probably was, yes. At the dinner party. I'm gay, by the way."

Dan shook his head. "Nahhh, I don't think so. I think that was before she moved to La Grange. I'm pretty sure her parents were immigrants. But Garret doesn't know that."

"And I want to -- I've just confessed I want to sleep with you," Casey coughed.

Dan looked at him. "I heard you, Case. I know. That's fine. But I'm just, we gotta -- HOLY MOSES IN THE MORNING, I FORGOT ABOUT STU!"

"Stu?" Casey said weakly.

"This really changes everything." Dan flipped back to the dog-eared page. "Yeah. Stu. Good." He nodded.

Casey scratched the back of his neck. "I'm really feeling sort of, something here, Danny."

"Ambivalent?" Dan guessed.



"Not so much."

Dan punched the air. "Garret is blackmailing Hilary!"

"I -- uh, Danny--" Casey said, really close to whining.

"Hush," Danny said.

Casey felt strangely restless in his big puffy first class chair. He folded his tray table back up, took a sip of his Bloody Mary, and set the drink down in the little recessed cup-dish on Danny's tray table. Dan didn't look up.

"Talk to me," Casey said. Dan was looking dark and sultry in profile, leaning against the window and pursing his lips and holding his book up with his pinky and thumb in front of the pages. Casey took another drink and found pepper on his tongue.

Dan shook his head. "But then why, I ask you, why would he -- dude, I don't know who sent Miranda this letter. It's so not Garret."

"You know, Danny, you've got a minor celebrity sitting next to you in an airplane saying he, you know, wants you, but somehow you're more interested in that trashy book than anything I have to say."

"Nice pronouns. Who are you again?" Dan cracked the book open further and slouched in his seat. "And how is it possible I still don't know who Miranda's having an affair with?"

Casey growled. He nursed his drink a little, moping and wishing he had more legroom. After a long while he said, "Fine. Okay. I get it."

Dan looked up at him and he was suddenly very serious. "Case, listen. You realize this is the test, right? Because I know how you're feeling man, I do, but we're in an airplane, and, you know, this has to work when we're on the ground too."

"I know," Casey said, a little embarrassed because for a second, there, it had been about the fact that they were on an airplane and he was bored and sort of horny and Danny was there, eating pretzels and muttering to himself. And Casey hadn't really thought about what would happen when they hit the ground, but Danny smiled, and Casey thought about it and realized that after ten years he could wait two thousand miles more.

Dan bumped his shoulder against Casey's. "So it's the airplane test. And we'll get through it, and we'll land and we'll see what's what. Okay?" He grinned his pointy grin and ate another pretzel. "But first. You need to help me finish this book."