11. Morning Research
The bus was moving when Beau awoke, so he rose with his hands tightly gripping the sides of his bunk to steady himself. The roar of the engine and the wind that whipped along the asphalt beneath them hummed like soft white noise in his ears.
Beau stood and stretched to his full height, cracking his spine with a few satisfying pops. Standing in the hall alone, he looked up to see that Adelaide’s curtain was pulled open and her bunk was empty. When he dared to turn around, he found that Isaac’s was the same.
The events of the night before came rushing back to him, slamming from one side of his skull to the other and greeting him with a headache that felt like it could rival his friends’ hangovers. He didn’t feel nearly awake enough to entertain his anxious questions about Isaac’s porn preferences, so he buried the thoughts as deep as he could, hoping to at least stomach some food or coffee before addressing what the fuck had happened through that bluetooth speaker.
Slowly and quietly, Beau trudged down the hall towards the kitchenette. He stopped when he saw his co-stars huddled up in the booth by the table, oblivious to his presence. They lounged in silence, squished up against each other as they fought sleep and attempted to focus on Isaac’s laptop. Isaac had only one hand on the keyboard in front of him, his other draped fully around Adelaide’s shoulders. Her head nodded sleepily against his shoulder and her eyes kept slipping shut as she tried to focus on the screen.
Beau’s racing mind finally fell silent upon witnessing such a quiet, nostalgic moment. The last time he’d seen either of them look so calm or affectionate, they would have been crammed into their little rental van that sputtered and coughed its way through outback towns.
He crept back to his bunk to find his phone, hoping to capture the moment before it passed. He did his best to stay out of sight as he opened his camera and positioned a shot, sure that it would be the type of candid that Adelaide would love to share on their socials. Anything that would stir up excitement amidst their shippers would undoubtedly bring a grin to her face.
Right as Beau hovered his thumb over the capture button, she lifted her head and spotted him. Adelaide grinned sleepily, then rolled her head onto Isaac’s shoulder and stuck out her tongue for the photo. Beau smiled to himself and snapped it.
With the photo taken, Adelaide slowly pried herself from their half-hug and sat upright in her seat. Isaac remained a tired, dead weight, and let Adelaide manhandle his limp arm from around her. When she stood up to join Beau as he stepped into the kitchen, Isaac simply glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, then went back to focusing on his computer.
“How are you two feeling?” Beau asked, afraid to look anywhere near Isaac’s eye.
“Like I had a great night,” Adelaide responded with a weak, gravelly voice.
“Sounds like it,” he smirked, before turning to find himself a clean mug. “You had a tea or coffee yet?”
Adelaide simply groaned in response. Beau glanced at her to figure out what that meant, but she had already wandered back to her bunk by the time he caught sight of her. He watched her climb up to make sure she didn’t fall and split her head open, then shook his head to himself once she was safely inside with the curtain drawn.
“What about you?” He then asked Isaac, his voice growing weak no matter how hard he fought against it. Isaac looked up at the change of his tone, frozen like a kangaroo in headlights – but Beau fought twice as hard to make his smile look kind and unassuming, like nothing was wrong, like Beau hadn’t heard a thing.
His guard lowered, Isaac’s shoulders started to relax, then his gaze dropped from Beau’s face to stare somewhere in the middle ground between them. He sat and thought for a moment, then squeezed his eyes shut and looked back up at Beau’s eyes.
“Sorry, what was the question?”
Beau couldn’t help but laugh as he turned to find a second mug. “Nevermind. I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”
He heard Isaac let out a long, slow sigh, and once he found a pot to boil some water, he glanced over his shoulder to see he was already focused on his computer again.
“What are you up to?” Beau couldn’t help but ask.
Isaac acknowledged Beau quicker that time, glancing up then waving a hand in front of his screen. “Research. Sorry. Getting a bit lost in it.”
“You’re fine,” Beau nodded. He filled the pot with water from their tiny sink, then stared down at the two-piece stovetop with dismay. “We need an electric kettle,” he muttered.
“We really do,” Isaac grunted. “We’ll have to go shopping.”
Just as Beau was considering whether he should simply throw a mug in the microwave, an alarm began to ring from Isaac’s phone. With instinctive curiosity he turned around to look, right as Isaac switched it off and dug a prescription bottle out of his hoodie pocket.
Beau’s eyes scanned the dining table, which had nothing but Isaac’s phone, laptop, and water bottle on it. He squinted as he turned around to check the kitchen counter, then peered into the sink. No dirty dishes.
“Have you eaten?” He asked, catching Isaac off guard with his mouth full of water. He stared back at Beau, swallowed his pill, then turned back to his laptop silently.
“Mmm…” Isaac pretended to think as he averted Beau’s gaze. “...No.”
Beau inhaled slowly and nodded as he unfolded his arms. “Alright. Will two-minute noodles do? We don’t have much else.”
Isaac looked up at him curiously, confused about where this offer of food had come from. “I-it’s okay, I…” He paused to glance around the table as if some other option would present itself.
After a moment of thought, he turned back to Beau and nodded. Beau was grateful he knew better than to take his ADHD medication on an empty stomach.
“Thank you,” Isaac murmured quietly, already looking away.
Beau got to work without another word, digging through the cupboards to find the instant noodle packets he was sure he’d spotted the day before. By the time he found a pack and tore it open, the water on the stove had just begun to bubble.
“Another reason for a kettle,” he pointed out as he watched the water come to boil. He poured some of the water into a mug for himself, then dropped the block of uncooked ramen into what was left in the pot.
“You don’t need a reason for a kettle,” Isaac piped up, surprising Beau that he wasn’t already completely zoned out. “It’s a basic human right.”
Beau chuckled and brewed his cup of tea while the noodles cooked. He poured a generous helping of milk into the cup, then cradled it between both palms to savour the warmth. Despite the different taste from tea back home, his first sip felt like oozing aloe across a sunburn, and he quickly gulped down another. It loosened his muscles and cleared his head as it seared down his throat, the heat pooling low in his chest where he needed it most after such a rough night of sleep.
It wasn’t long before Beau finished cooking and set down the finished bowl of instant noodles. As soon as it clinked onto the table in front of him, Isaac pushed his laptop aside to give it his full attention.
Beau leant back against the counter as Isaac ate, watching him over the top of his mug. The downside of clearing the tired fog from his mind was that his anxious thoughts suddenly had room to move again, and they all came crashing forth with wicked enthusiasm. He was careful to hide his face behind his tea as he considered all that he knew about his friend, then began to wonder what might be hidden beneath the surface.
He’d never been anything but Isaac to him. To think of him as a man with totally different tastes and pleasures than what he had always known? Tastes that might actually… align with Beau?
His mind wandered a step too far and flashed with images of Isaac lying in his bunk, touching himself to thoughts and videos of other men. Beau’s breathing stuttered at the thought.
Isaac looked up at the sound, his sudden attention making Beau startle and choke on his tea.