Ian & Dima in Athens: Hangovers, Kisses, and Tears
The beginning of the end — Moon over Berlin, B3C2
Halfway through rolling over, Dima realized he was awake. Pain needled through his head. What the devil? Then his stomach cramped; he remembered all the Ouzo. And rivers of white wine that puckered his lips while stinking of pine.
He smiled anyway. The hangover didn’t bother him at all. The night before had been excellent!
He finished rolling over and hissed, not too quietly, toward the other bed. “Ian! You awake?”
Nothing… Oh, well.
They’d walked a few blocks to a huge public square lined with tavernas, cramped restaurants, shabby hotels, and neon dance clubs. They pushed through massive crowds, Dima staring at fire eaters, singers, jugglers, and even puppet performers. Greek kids his age swarmed the area, but so did European tourists and Americans. The babble of languages in his ears thrilled him and spun him in dizzy circles.
They snagged seats at a table already crowded with drunken young Germans, then ordered wine and dinner. Dima was finally the expert! They feasted on a huge roasted fish he chose from a pile of ice in the kitchen. The waiter assured them it would be so good they’d lick the bones. Ian looked shocked when Dima actually did it. All the appetizers — roe, fish paste, eggplant, yoghurt — were so familiar, almost Russian. He would have preferred black bread, but the crisp little white loaves were amazing.
“This tastes like Crimea!” he shouted, mouth full, crumbs spraying. When he started to cough, Ian took advantage, patting his back hard and sneaking a quick kiss on the cheek. Dima laughed to see how red he turned, eyes darting like mad to check if anyone had noticed.
Dima’s heart sped up a little. He couldn’t understand why Ian was keeping a certain distance between them. Even in private, he was barely willing to kiss, often jumping away from Dima’s lips like they were on fire. But he obviously wanted to. The looks he shot Dima’s way! Juliette laughed sometimes and said things like, “Put your eyes back in your head, man.”
After the quick kiss, Dima pulled Ian in and hugged him despite how rigid and uncomfortable his body felt. Their unease passed quickly. The crowd was so friendly. People everywhere were singing and dancing. They joined in freely, hanging on each other all night. Openly. Dima felt so relaxed. So free. So happy.
He remembered plunging bare feet into a gurgling fountain, swigging Ouzo from a bottle, watching a magician pull a baby rabbit out of a giant red snapper’s maw. He remembered a Swedish tourist acting the uncultured asshole. He remembered swaying in the middle of a crowd, arms around Juliette and Ian, singing along in English to Queen as it blasted out of somebody’s boom box.
He also remembered digging his heels in and refusing to go back to the hotel. “No! It’s early still. Let’s order another bottle!”
He remembered laughing as Mark chased him down, tackled him, and grabbed him in a headlock. Mark was chuckling, but he sounded like he meant it when he said, “Listen here, wild man. I’m twice as big as you are. I’ll throw you over my shoulder and carry you back if you don’t calm down.”
He laughed again, out loud, at the memory. Ian moaned from under his blankets a few feet away. “Ugh. What time is it?”
Dima threw his blankets off. “No idea!” He hopped out of bed and skidded barefoot across cool tiles to the window. He opened the blinds to let bright sunshine stream in. “But it’s morning!” he observed cheerfully.
“No shit,” Ian grumbled in English. “Ow, my head!”
“Yeah, mine too. I need at least a liter of milk and a handful of aspirin.”
“Go back to bed!”
“Only if I can get in with you,” Dima teased. He meant it, though. He slid over the tiles again, grabbed a corner of Ian’s blankets and crawled underneath. “Relax,” he breathed into Ian’s ear, reaching around to massage his chest and pull his shoulders in. He buried his nose into the nape of Ian’s neck. “Mmmm. You smell so good.” He felt a stirring, a rich wave of pleasure, and thrust his hips.
Ian pushed back and went rigid, moaning from deep in his throat. Then he laughed. “Oh, yeah?” Want a kiss?” He twisted his head around and exhaled hard.
“Oh, my god,” Dima yelled, rocketing out of bed. “That is disgusting!”
“No, shit. That’s what you get for waking me up.”
Dima laughed and scooped a pair of cargo shorts from the floor. He balled them up and threw them at Ian. “Put your pants on and let’s get moving. Aren’t you hungry?”
He grabbed his own shorts from the night before, threw them on, and and sat on Ian’s bed, bouncing up and down until his friend reluctantly slid out from under the blankets
Ian smiled and grimaced through the same set of lips. “Remind me to kill you when I’m feeling better, please?”
“Sure,” Dima said, nodding and laughing. “You got the key to Juliette’s room, right?”
“Yeah,” Ian grumped, sitting up and sticking a leg into the shorts. “Why?”
“Come on. She’s got aspirin in her bag. She tried to get me to take some before bed last night.”
They slowly poked their heads into the room across the hall. Dima didn’t want to disturb them if they were sleeping or … busy. He saw Juliette curled up in the same bed as Mark, two lumpy silhouettes in the shadows. He motioned for Ian to follow, and they tiptoed in, searching for the suitcase.
Her croaking voice jerked his head around as he rummaged through it. “Hand me the bottle of Pepto Bismol, please?”
“The peptide what?”
Ian laughed and grabbed a big pink bottle. He walked it over to the bed where Mark grabbed it and chugged before passing it on to his girlfriend. She took a few quick sips and licked her lips. “Damn, it must be getting late.”
She handed the bottle to Dima, who sniffed suspiciously and passed it on to Ian. Medicine should not smell like fluffy sugar candy.
Juliette yawned. “We have a lot to do today.” She threw her arm around Mark and nodded at the guys. “Why don’t you two head to that cafe in the lobby and get food? We’ll catch up.”
“Wait a minute!” she hollered as they opened the door. “Fair warning. I’m freaking not getting into a tiny cab with either of you until you shower. You smell like rancid Ouzo factories.”
The bathroom was tiny and cramped, barely enough for the shower stall and a sink, so Ian stripped down to his white briefs before heading in. Dima sat on his bed, waited his turn, and watched. His stomach did a flip, and not from the hangover. He knew what Ian looked like, but it had been weeks since he’d had a good long look at his body.
He didn’t see a gut at all. Ian’s narrow waist tapered into a flat, smooth stomach. Individual muscles pushed out of his abs like the bottoms of vodka bottles. His chest was defined. Tight. Not bulky like Mark’s — hard, slim, crisp muscle. He’d felt it earlier hugging him in bed. Steel hiding under velvet.
Ian looked over and caught him staring. Their eyes locked for a minute, and this time it was Dima’s turn to blush and stutter.
“God, that’s good!” Ian took a sip of coffee and felt his headache back off another step. The hangover was worth it, anyway. Yesterday night had been such a tension reliever. They’d all needed it.
He took a bite of bread roll and reflected that it had probably been their release from fear that had pushed them to go a little crazy.
“You were so funny last night, Dima,” he said around his food.
Mark growled. “I’ll give him funny!” But he was smiling.
Dima had really taken charge at dinner. He seemed to know all about fish and Greek-style food. Ian remembered not being able to pull his eyes away from him. He’d gotten so used to being around him that he’d sort of forgotten how hot he was. He hadn’t been able to stop himself from kissing him. Even if it was just on the cheek. He wished he hadn’t decided that they were better off keeping their distance… that way.
They’d had a blast after dinner, drinking and dancing in Constitution Square. Some big Swedish guy had plunked down beside them when they were cooling their feet in a fountain. He hit on Ian hard. Dima got rid of him in about five seconds. Looking jealous, drunk, belligerent, Dima grabbed Ian and kissed him hard on the lips. For once, Ian didn’t have the heart to pull away. They melted together as the man stalked away.
Remembering, Ian finished his breakfast in a warm glow.
Juliette ruined his mood after she called for the check. “Before we do anything else,” she said to the table at large, “we have to make that phone call.”
Ian didn’t want to think about what that meant, about the end of the trip, about flying back to Berlin alone.
A 10-minute walk through fierce Athens sun took them back through Constitution Square. It looked deserted after the revelries of the night before. Their sandals slapped a rustling tattoo on fiery pavement, broken beats echoing around the massive stone buildings that ringed the plaza.
Juliette handed a woman at the post office a wad of cash, then Ian and Dima squeezed into a tiny booth. The Russian dialed the rotary phone slowly, not looking at the slip of paper wadded into his hand. Ian was surprised to hear him speak halting English. “Yes? Yes, I will… waiting. Much thank you.”
Dima held the phone with one hand and drummed on the wall of the booth with the other. Ian was squeezed up so tight against him that he could feel his heart beating through his thin tee shirt. He smelled something bitter and fearful in the sweat beading up on the back of his friend’s neck.
Five minutes crawled by. Finally, Dima’s face lit up and he whispered, “It’s ringing!” Then, “Aunt Svetya? It’s me! Dima. Dmitry!”
Ian could just make out a tinny, excited voice coming from all the way across the Mediterranean.
“Yes,” Dima broke in. “Yes… Yes… No… I think so.” He looked confused for moment, turning to Ian and shrugging. “No, I don’t think I’m supposed to say, exactly.”
The distant voice went on some more, and Dima answered with, “No more than three or four weeks at the most. I don’t have the exact date. Yes, anywhere in the Mediterranean would be fine, I think. But … here, talk to my friend?”
Ian was surprised when Dima thrust the phone at him, but he put it to his ear and uttered a quick greeting. “Hello?”
The voice was very Russian, a rich deep contralto, very formal, and very concerned. “Are you safe, young man? Is my nephew safe? Are you quite certain we’re speaking privately?”
“This is a random public phone,” he assured her. “We didn’t know we’d be using it until two minutes before we chose it. Nobody can hear us, and nobody should be able to intercept the call.”
The cultivated voice managed to sound relieved. “Excellent. Are you where you told my nephew’s father you would be?”
“Yes, Gospozha.” He used the archaic Russian honorific for “my Lady,” without thinking. For some reason, it felt utterly appropriate. “We’re in that city. We didn’t tell him where we’d be exactly, of course.”
“Very well. So, my husband is working on arrangements, but he hasn’t put every detail together yet. The notice was very short. Too short. I have no information for you just now. Can you hold on for two weeks? It would be best if you moved around but remained in the Aegean. Is that still your plan?”
“Yes, Gospozha. We won’t go far. Mykonos. Maybe Santor…”
“Shhhh, boy! Not now. Not over the phone. I don’t need to know. Can you call me again exactly two weeks from today?”
Ian shrugged and told her they could certainly do that. He passed the phone back to Dima and left him to talk privately with his regal aunt. Had he really called her by the nickname of Svetya? Svetlana and a full patronymic didn’t even sound formal enough to Ian. Exiting the booth, he shot Juliette and Mark a thumbs up. He didn’t smile, though.
Two weeks. Now he had a number. Now he had to start a countdown to the beginning of the end of his friendship with Dima. He’d known since that magical night at the French reception that helping Dima meant losing him.
His headache roared back. He massaged his temples and thought hard. He knew he’d do what he had to do; he just didn’t know how he was going to stand it. He turned his head and rubbed a knuckle into his eyes, hoping nobody would notice his tears.
This has been chapter 2 of the third act of a Cold War geopolitical thriller, gay coming-of-age romance. Settings and characters are pulled directly from my own life, but the story is fictional.