“You’re a good kisser,” Cass murmured against my mouth.
Chuckling, I replied, “I hope so.”
“Trust me, it’s an underrated skill. I’ve been with a lot of guys who were sloppy or just want to skip to other things.” His cheeks flushed. “Not that I mind those other things, but…”
The same guy who could be such a smart ass was actually blushing talking about kisses? That was so damn adorable I wanted to eat him alive.
“I understand.” I moved my lips over his neck. “I like taking my time.”
His breath came in a shutter and I wondered how we’d gotten here—standing in my living room with shirts tossed aside, Cass burrowed into my arms—though we’d hardly rushed it.
We’d been trying to do the responsible thing, after all—and there was a lot working against us. Hell, it felt like the world at large was against us. Prop 8 was even now being pushed to repeal the right of same-sex marriage in California.
Yet even with all that, and despite Cass’ conflicts about lying to his father, he had followed me up to my apartment. I knew I should’ve sent him home, told him he would have to figure out matters with Doug before we could delve any deeper into our relationship. I was the adult here. I knew what needed to happen.
I had led him inside anyway. It might not have been a mature move, but, dammit, I was only human. Now that we’d opened ourselves to the possibility of romance – and sex – it was impossible for me to turn him away. Not after he’d opened up to me. He’d allowed himself such vulnerability and I couldn’t let him go, not yet.
Maybe a part of it was me opening too, allowing someone else in. I’d been closed off for so long. I knew I wouldn’t regret letting him into my apartment, or anywhere else he wanted to go. Tomorrow be damned.
“That feels good,” he said, as I stroked down his back. He was like a cat being pet after a long absence. He was skin hungry. So was I. Every touch of skin-on-skin sent flickers of energy dancing along my nerves—nerves I’d thought dead or at least dormant.
His hands came up to tug at my hair before taking my mouth again. I wasn’t sure which was one of us had the stronger need. Our tongues battled before I let him lead. I barely realized I was guiding him to the bed until we fell onto it. We laughed into one another’s necks and shoved off the rest of our clothes. Totally unfettered, Cass twined himself around me, nuzzling his face against my neck, or into my sparse chest hair, even my armpits. When I started to laugh, he bit my shoulder.
“Little spitfire,” I said with a grin. “Tell me what you’re into.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know…the usual?”
I leaned on one of my elbows next to him, noting the new tension in his body. “Has no one ever asked you that before?”
“No. I mean, they have, but…” He shook his head. “It was usually when they were trying to pick me up, so we wanted to be sure we’d want the same things. With us, well, we’ve hung out a lot. We already know each other. I guess it feels weird to be asked that point blank when we’re already messing around. Can we just go with the flow?”
“Yeah, sure. We should talk about it sometime soon, though.”
Cass nodded, though he didn’t look all that convinced. Talking so baldly about sexual preferences did kind of suck the spark out of the moment, but I’d learned it was a lot healthier to bring the topic up earlier rather than later.
“Tonight…” Cass said, pushing me up until he could sit in my lap, “maybe a little of this.” He shimmied his hips so our naked cocks wrestled together. “And this,” he added, slipping a hand down to curl his long fingers around both our erections. He grinned, a little mischievous, a little smug, and very happy. I grinned back and he swayed his hips into mine. “Ugh, yeah,” I groaned. Of course if I’d been honest, I would’ve given a limb to have his lips wrapped around my cock. But I’d lose myself in the physical if we went that route, and that’s not what I wanted from this. It wasn’t a one-night fuck. This was about connection—about us deepening the one we’d already been making. I wanted us both deep in the present. More than anything, I wanted his eyes on mine when he came, so he’d know he was <i>mine</i>.
The thought almost made me pause; I wasn’t typically possessive. Cass bought it out in me, though, like no one ever had.
Cass kept stroking us together, the hot sensitive skin pressing, sliding…it was heaven. His beautiful eyes were half-lidded and his heavy breathing matched my own. Heat radiated between us, surrounding us in a safe shell of ecstasy.
“Lay down.” With a hand under Cass’ back I leaned him onto the bed. My body was above him, his thighs still spread under me. I slid a hand over his and took hold of my cock. “I’m not going to last long.”
“Me neither,” he gasped out.
As I watched him jack his rod with frantic efficiency, I groaned. “Fuck, Cass. What you do to me.” I felt a surge of desire grip my sac, and my inner axis tipped into point-of-no-return.
“You gonna come on me?”
“Yes.” And no sooner had I said the word than Cass erupted. It was beautiful to see him so overcome: mouth gaping and eyes squeezed shut. He’d come so fast, all I could think was ‘he’s so young’, but as I drank him in, still stroking and milking himself for all he was worth, a ripple of shock went threw me. I came, like a stroke of lightening to my system.
“Oh god!” I shuttered and quaked as stream after stream of cum fell across Cass’ skin, like paint over a pale canvass.
I collapsed next to him, still trembling. After a moment I passed him a few tissues from the box next to my bed.
“Thanks,” he muttered, making a half-hearted attempt to clean himself. I took over and wiped him clean, then dropped kisses along his chest and collarbones.
“Mmm-hmm,” he purred, and I pulled him in, flush with my side. I yanked the sheet out from beneath us and pulled it over us. We stayed there for a while, soaking in each other’s warmth and scent.
“Thanks,” Cass said into the quiet.
“For your orgasm?” I asked with amusement.
“For taking a chance on me. On us.”
I pulled him in tighter, but was stick for words. The way things had progressed, I didn’t feel as if I’d made a conscious choice. It had just…happened.
When I was starting to nod off, I felt Cass shuffle next to me.
“Oh, man. It’s late. I should go.”
“Sorry.” He leaned over to meet my eyes. “I’ll stay over another night. Soon.” He kissed me, slow and thorough. “And we’ll finally get to fuck.”
That broke me into a laugh. “I’m always up for that, but that’s just one thing on the menu.”
Cass frowned. “Dude, it’s the main course.”
I lifted my eyebrows at that; it was good to hear. Over the years I’d come across more than one guy who wasn’t into penetration, but I had to admit it was at the top of my list of favorite things. It was damn good to know Cass and I were on the same page with that, though he hadn’t said if he had a preference for top or bottom. I still couldn’t read him on that. Maybe he was verse?
I angled my head toward his neck and hushed in his ear, “Itadakimasu,” then nipped his throat.
“Ah!” He broke into giggles—yes, a grown man giggling—and it made my whole body warm. “What’s that mean?” he demanded, pushing me away, still smiling.
“It means something like ‘I gratefully accept this meal’ in Japanese.”
“Well, hold that thought for next time.”
Next time he came over I had Alia, though. And the time after that. TJ helped when he could but he had a job with regular hours, while I was riding on passive income through selling prints on my website—until I left for the Philippines in the winter. I’d been in touch with some journalists I’d worked with in the past and the project looked promising. Usually this was the stage in the game I felt a rush of energy and optimism. This time was different. This time I’d be leaving Cass behind.
Right now he was on the living room floor playing with Alia and, by the looks of it, enjoying every minute. I shook my head at the duo and moved to the kitchen to heat up some pierogis for dinner. I’d convinced Alia they were another form of mac ’n cheese, so she loved them.
I loved that Cass could entertain her while I did other things. It was amazing, and gave me a whole new appreciation for single parents like Kate. What the hell did people do if they didn’t have family to help?
“There’s my man,” came Cass’ voice from behind me. His arms wrapped around me from behind as he said, “cookin’ in the kitchen like a good man should.”
Chuckling, I turned around to pull him in. “You like it when I cook?”
“Since I don’t have to? Yeah.”
I granted him a few soft kisses before turning back to the pierogis. “What’s Alia doing out there by herself?”
“She’s got all her stuffed animals gathered for a conference or something.”
We laughed together, and I thought how much I did that lately. I hadn’t realized how somber I’d been before Cass appeared. Now I felt like I laughed all the time. Something between us just vibed at the same frequency. The feeling was new for me.
I’d loved Nate, but this was…different. Things flowed in a way they never had between Nate and me. As I watched Cass give me a wink and walk back out to the living room, I had to take a steadying breath. Leaving him for several months was not going to be easy. I tried not to think about it. Unfortunately, that got harder to do when every day greeted me with a colder slap to the face as I walked out the door. Fall was passing.
I wasn’t alone in my denial of the future, though. Cass hadn’t spoken about his father in weeks. I wasn’t sure if Doug even knew he was hanging with me—and assuming we were friends—or if Cass was telling him he was at Shaun’s or some other friend’s place. We made quite a pair.
Not that I could complain. Over the years I’d become an expert in “living for the moment”, which sounded romantic and exciting. In reality, matters didn’t always work that way. Life moved fast and if you didn’t look ahead, you could get slammed by things you never saw coming. Even little things.
On a particularly crappy, windy Friday, Cass came in straight from work after a eleven hour day.
“I feel like shit,” he said, collapsing on my couch. He looked like shit too, but I was wise enough not to say it. “Everything that could’ve gone wrong did,” he explained, as Alia climbed into his lap.
“Alia, Uncle Cass is tired. Give him some space.”
“No, it’s fine.” He ran a hand over his face, streaking it with dirt.
“What didn’t?” he said with a rueful laugh. “The wrong sheet rock came in, but no one realized it until it’d been used on half the eastern wall. The new foreman—a total asshole—gave us like five fucking minutes for lunch and then proceeded to spend the afternoon talking shit about his cousin’s kid who, in his words, is ‘a cock-sucking queer’.” Cass shook his head. He looked exhausted, body and soul. I wanted to find this foreman and smash his face in. In the wake of my anger, all I wanted to do was hold Cass in my arms and keep him safe from all the homophobic asses in the world.
How the hell could he continue his construction work if he came out? I was all for fighting the good fight, but he didn’t like his work even without all the shit talk.
“You need a beer?”
He nodded as he watched Alia tracing the Carhartt tag on his jacket. I got up, but he stopped me. “Make that an Irish coffee.”
“Yeah? The caffeine might keep you up.”
Cass shrugged. “It’ll help get my head out of this fog I’m in, though.”
“Okay.” I patted his shoulder and was going to lean in for a kiss, but his attention was all on Alia. It was rare I found solace in a kid’s company, but I knew others did, and I was glad Alia could help ease Cass’ tension when he’d come over like this after a rough day. But…
Was it unfair that I wanted Cass all to myself? Was it stupid to be kind of jealous of a toddler? Yeah, it was. Didn’t mean it wasn’t true, though.
With a sigh at my own lameness I stirred the whiskey into Cass’ cup and brought it out to him, only to find him snoring on the sofa. His arm was draped over Alia, who had passed out against him. They were damn cute together.
I grabbed a short glass of whiskey for myself and sat down next to them. I’d have to move Alia to bed eventually but there wasn’t any rush. I watched Cass’ chest rise and fall with my niece’s little head bobbing with the movement. It was a quiet, sweet moment and something unfamiliar welled inside me as I took it in.
The way we were all sitting there it seemed like we were, well, a little family. Which was something I hadn’t ever aimed for or even imagined for myself. I wasn’t sure I’d want that. Even if I did, god only knew how many other things I had going on at the moment.
I drank my whiskey and heard Scarlett O’Hara’s voice from Gone With the Wind in the back of my mind: “I can’t think about that right now. If I do I’ll go crazy… I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Not the wisest of strategies, but I’d take it for now.
“You were totally right! I needed this!” I half-shouted at Lance against the pumping house music inside the club.
“I’m too polite to say I-told-you-so,” he replied with a grin, sipping his pink cosmo.
“No, you’re not!”
He laughed. “You’re right! I told you so!”
It had been the perfect thing to do tonight. After dealing with Will the evening before, I needed to let loose, and Lance—always open and always himself—was the perfect person to be around. With him, there weren’t any hidden emotions or motivations or skeletons in his closet. Hell, no. Once he was out of the closet he never looked back and never held anything in.
Maybe that made him sound a bit crazy—maybe he was. But he was genuine, always himself, and he was a damn loyal friend. And he could dance like a motherfucker! I laughed and watched him sway his hips and throw his arms up, totally absorbed by the music and the epitome of ‘dance like no one’s watching’.
Damn, how I needed this! I plucked my drink from a side table to take a sip, then chased it with water (I knew if I didn’t rehydrate I was going to regret it, the drinks at Ross’ were strong). I grabbed his hips playfully to move against him, and he grinned. We danced a few songs together, luring others on the dance floor between us, before pulling away to take a breather.
Without asking, we both headed for the back door to the porch to douse ourselves in the cool air.
“Whew!” I sighed, wiping the sweat off my face. “It’s been too long! I forgot how damn hot it gets in there.”
“You can always take your shirt off,” he said with a wink, before fishing his cigarettes from his pocket.
“I can’t believe you still smoke!”
“I can’t believe you haven’t brought Will up even once yet,” he smirked as he lit the cig and puffed out a cloud. “Aren’t you guys living together?”
He knew damn well we weren’t. “Ha. Ha. You’re so funny.”
Chuckling, he shrugged. “Trouble in paradise?”
“We’re not even dating.”
“So says the guy who waits around to kiss his honey welcome home.”
I rolled my eyes. I never should’ve told Lance that Will had given me his key. Or that I went over there more often than I should. Or that we’d kiss occasionally.
Folding my arms, I leaned against the cold brick of the building behind me. “Still doesn’t mean we’re dating. Do I have to go through the whole thing about him still being hung up on his ex?”
“No! You gave me more than enough details on the drive here.” He softened his words with a smile. “But I know when you are gone on someone. Why else would his ex matter to you?”
“Because even as just his friend, I’m concerned that he’s carrying too much baggage about the past.”
“Not your job to fix him, though.”
“I can worry. I can want to help.”
Lance just shrugged and inhaled more smoke. “What do you really want to happen with him, Cass?”
I knew that tone, he wasn’t going to let this go. Even here, at the back of a Boys Town club where most of the other patrons were in dark corners making out or openly groping each other.
“I don’t know.”
I sighed. “I can’t have what I want. He’s not ready and I don’t know if he ever will be.”
“Does that mean you’ve laid your cards out on the table and he told you to fold? Or are you still keeping them against your chest?”
I smirked. “Your poker metaphors suck.”
“You know what I mean, smartass!”
“I haven’t been that direct…but he knows.”
“Be direct and then tell me what he does.”
“Lance,” I said, shaking my head.
“Cass.” He stubbed out his cigarette. “Come on, more dancing!”
That sounded fine to me—much preferred over talking about Will. A Lady Gaga song came on and Lance lit up like a Christmas tree. “Gotta dance on a platform for my Lady!”
I snorted, which was lost in the pumping bass of the music, and let Lance tug me up onto the packed platform. We gripped each other and laughed as we played up our ridiculous sexy dancing. Someone tried to get up onto the platform near us and I accidentally tipped him back.
“Ah! Sorry, man! Let me help you.” I took his hand and helped pull him onto the already crowded platform. My eyes glanced out over the gyrating bodies below and guys at the bar. Then my jaw dropped.
“Holy shit. I don’t believe it.”
“What?” Lance asked.
“Who? Heath Ledger? ‘Cause otherwise don’t stop dancing!”
“No way!” Lance started turning his head like a lifeguard scanning a beach. “Where? I want to see this prince of yours.”
“I’m mad at him, remember?”
“Uh-huh. So which one is he?”
“At the bar. Plaid shirt.”
Lance looked like he’d eaten something rotten. “Plaid? Seriously? In Boys Town?”
“He doesn’t wear it a lot, ok? And what does that matter?” I retorted.
Lance knew better. “Means he didn’t come to dance, which sucks.” Then his eyes lit up, as he grabbed me by the waist. “Let’s see if we can lure him out!”
“You have to tell him.”
“I know.” TJ wasn’t telling me anything I hadn’t already screamed at myself a hundred times. “He ran out the door, I didn’t have a chance.”
I didn’t mention that I had handled it all wrong. Yesterday had, quite literally, been a shit day, and then I’d had to add to it to make it truly craptacular.
“I don’t know why you waited so long. I told you it was only going to get harder.”
“TJ, you are not helping,” I said in an act of iron-willed restraint, when I really wanted to tell him to take his obvious advice and shove it up his--
“I’m sorry. I don’t like to see you, or Cass, hurting.” He patted my shoulder. “And I just get pissed when everyone doesn’t realize I’m right in the first place.”
He was teasing now, knowing it would make me smile, which I reluctantly did.
“I think I scared him too.” I spread my hands. “Telling him about the Society offer, and about how I used to live my life—basically saying if I take this opportunity then he has to come in second. I wanted to discuss it with him, dammit. I just…”
“It was a bad day. It happens.”
I expelled a long breath. “Yeah. What do I do now?”
“Tell him. Everything.”
“I will, tonight.”
But it hadn’t worked out that way. For starters, I couldn’t get a hold of Cass. The kid didn’t answer his phone and it wasn’t as if I could stop by where he lived to see if he was home. So I made my own plans.
I was restless and tired of thinking, so I drove into the city. I needed a night off, a night out of the region. Thankfully a buddy of mine was free, so we were able to meet up for drinks—even if it was in a loud, overcrowded club filled with twinks.
Not that I minded a little eye candy, but I hated having to shout over loud music. Still, it felt good to be out.
“How long’s it been?” Tony asked as our beers were set in front of us. How he’d managed to score stools at the bar I didn’t know—and knew better than to ask.
“Too long!” I said with a grin, taking a long draw of the lager.
“I heard you moved back, but then I still didn’t see you around.”
“Moved back to northwest Indiana to be with my sister, who had a kid…unexpectedly.”
“Ahh.” His brows rose and he gave a nod. Tony was a good guy, but he was a partier and after his family disowned him as a teen, he never looked back. Finding a good partner probably would’ve done him good after so many years alone, but he’d had no luck. Maybe it was because he spent his time in joints like this, scoping for twinks.
“So you came back from globe trekking to play house?”
I snorted. “I have my own place and my own plans, but shit man, she needs some help.”
He nodded and drank, and I changed the subject. It became clear very quickly, however, that this wasn’t my scene—if it ever had been. I wasn’t exactly a homebody, but the lights and bass and chaos just…didn’t do it for me. And visions of where I’d rather be kept plaguing me.
When had been the last time I’d really spent time with my camera? Fuck. It used to be that I didn’t feel whole unless I took some kind of shots every damn day. With all the craziness with Katie, it just hadn’t happened. In months. No wonder I was cranky.
Then, of course, there was Cass. I’d never wanted to do portraits before, but wanted to capture him on film sometime. Since I’d met him, things had been easier. Life had flowed a little better, I’d breathed a little easier. Until I started feeling trapped. Not by him, really, but by the situation.
I took a long drag on my drink, reminding myself that I’d come out to forget about all that.
“You’re missing the show,” Tony whispered/yelled in my ear over the music.
He pointed out toward the dance floor, which was in full view from our seats. It was boxed in with bodies, half of them with their shirts off. I had to admit, it was a pretty spectacular display. There were also platforms bordering the floor that were packed with sweaty, proud dancers.
“Not bad, eh?” Tony chuckled. “I’ve got my eye on…that one.” He pointed to a flamboyant, lanky otter on one of the platforms, grinding away with a very nice looking, muscular—“Oh, hell.”
“See something you like, huh?”
My mouth opened, but I couldn’t form words. I didn’t know what blindsided me more, that Cass was out partying it up, or that some other guy was fucking partying up on his body.
The song changed and I watched as Cass hopped down and then helped the little shit with him to follow.
“I’ll be back,” I tossed to Tony, practically jumping off my stool.
So, apparently Cass was so heart-broken about our argument that he found someone the next damn night to ease his pain? I was not letting them slip off together. Fuck that.
As I wiggled through the mass of bodies, my rational mind tugged at my anger. You’re not together, remember? I unclenched my fists and tried to think as I caught sight of him. Unfortunately all thought flew from me as I took in his tight jeans, tighter shirt, and flushed face. God, I wanted to eat him alive.
Our eyes met and I was at a loss for words. I could see the my heat reflected in his eyes, but there was uncertainty too. We hadn’t left things well the night before and I knew he must have a ton of questions—and I owed him a hell of a lot of answers. But just then, away from normal life and daily demands, I knew we wanted the same thing: to be in this moment and enjoy it to the fullest, together.
Bodies bounced around us and we started getting dirty looks as we stood stalled in place and getting in the way of their grinding. Then the damn otter showed up next to us. The bastard grinned at me and slipped an arm around Cass’ waist. He closed the distance between us. “You gonna gawk at us or dance?” As he spoke, he moved behind Cass and caressed his hands over his hips as he set their bodies moving to the deep, bass beat. I could feel my blood rise at the sight of any hands other than my own touching Cass, and if I’d had a clear shot to his face I would’ve been tempted to punch his damn lights out. How dare this guy touch Cass that way! And how dare Cass just stand there and let him?
Without conscious thought I stepped into Cass’ space and pressed up against him. I couldn’t not touch him. Hell, it was all I could do not to yank him out of the club that second and find somewhere close and private to claim him in every way I hadn’t yet allowed myself before.
Cass slipped his arms about my neck and my vision narrowed down to only him. I tugged him closer by his belt loops. In seconds our bodies molded tight and perfect into one another,
Good god, it was amazing. Cass’ arms kept me close as he sucked in his breath. We’d worked so hard for so long to keep things light between us that it was only now, in this moment, that we truly acknowledged the attraction between us. And fuck if it wasn’t like opening a floodgate.
Had I been mad before? I couldn’t remember anything other than the way Cass was moving under my hands. Looking over his shoulder, I saw that the other kid had disappeared. Good.
I wasn’t holding back anymore. Screw moving slow. Screw trying to act like there wasn’t something strong and real and electric between us. Cass felt like heaven. I was through denying myself this.
He looked up at me with glassy eyes and moved to straddle one of my thighs, grinding into me. Hard. My hands found their way under his shirt, gliding up his ribs as we humped on the dance floor. I felt him groan more than heard it, and he leaned back, letting my arms take his weight as he bent his head back and practically presented himself to me. He was the hottest thing I’d ever seen.
I swayed his body, digging my fingers about his hipbones to steady him as his head nearly reached the floor. Then he righted himself and I had to briefly release him to force a few buttons open on my shirt. What had I been thinking wearing fucking flannel? Though I could hardly regret it, as Cass shoved my hands away and made quick work of the rest of the buttons, then let his hands rove. Hot fingertips brushed up my chest before his arms wrapped around my waist and he brought us flush against one another, groin to shoulder. I could feel his heavy breathing. Our eyes locked, and I knew if I didn’t taste him right then I was going to lose my mind.
With the music vibrating through me like a live wire, I leaned down, fascinated by Cass’ full, parted lips.
“Hey, Cass! You forgot your drink! Oh—Sorry!”
That damn otter! My only consolation at being interrupted was the death glare Cass gave the guy as he snatched his drink from him. “Thanks,” Cass said with heavy sarcasm. “You can go now.”
Rather than looking chastised, the other kid was amused. Cass must have felt the growl rumbling through my throat, as he patted my chest the way one humors an over-protective dog.
“Introduce me and I will,” the otter said, undeterred. Cass rolled his eyes and nodded at him, eyes on me. “Will this is Lance. Lance, Will.”
“Good to put a body to the face—I mean, a face to the name,” Lance said, his “mistake” anything but.
“Oh, come on,” Lance said chuckling. “I’m harmless.” He eyed us and then added, “By the way, don’t forget, you were going to drive us home.”
Us? There was an “us” with them? I growled again and Cass rubbed my back indulgently. Then he smirked, “Unlike myself, you live in the city. You can cab it.”
“And leave my car here?”
Cass shrugged, looking unrepentant. I didn’t mind their banter, as I still held Cass’ hips pressed against me. I could’ve stood there half the night. The other half I could think of a few other things to do, though…
“Or you could have someone else drive you or stay the night at their place,” Cass offered Lance with a knowing grin.
“No. That was one time.”
“And us coming here has nothing to do with the fact that it’s one of Dain’s favorite haunts.”
It was Lance’s turn to roll his eyes. “Don’t be a bitch, Cassidy.”
“Ugh, don’t call me Cassidy!”
“Fine, I’ll go,” he said, pointing a finger, “but you owe me.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Cass muttered. Lance kissed him on the cheek and a dark spike of anger shot through me.
“Now get back to your boy, er, man,” Lance quipped. “He looks about ready to bite a head off before mating.”
Before Cass could get in another word, Lance slipped away through the crowd.
“Let’s get some air,” Cass said. Taking my hand, he pulled me outside.
TJ’s party had not gone according to plan. Not at all.
Though I’m not usually big on parties, I admit I’d been looking forward to hanging out with TJ and Craig and Dave and the rest of the crew. I’d missed poker night the entire summer because Kate’s work schedule demanded I watch Alia in the evenings. I’d been hoping to catch up with everyone.
Instead all I could do was try to act like I wasn’t crushing on the one young cub in the room—a cub that happened to be my best friend’s nephew. (Ok, maybe he wasn’t a ‘cub’ in the usual gay man’s sense of the word—no beard and little body hair from what I could see—but he was so damn adorable I just the image just stuck.) And his father clearly could use more than a beer to chill the fuck out. I’d never known Doug that well, but I hadn’t thought he was that big of an asshole. My family was Italian and Serbian but most people just saw a vague ethnic mutt when they looked at me; it had been a while since I’d dealt with someone being openly bigoted.
More important to me than personal insult was that Doug’s reaction to me had made it nearly impossible to even talk to Cassidy at the party. And that was all I really wanted to do once I’d caught sight of him. Not much threw me off my feet these days, but seeing him sitting there with all the guys, bottle tipped to his mouth as his eyes met mine… Yeah, floored, that was the term.
He’d looked great, even before that little blush had crept over his cheeks when he’d looked away. I’d told myself after Sunshine Market that it was just as well I’d never gotten the guy’s number—since he was probably too young and I really wasn’t ready for that kind of complication in my life. It was fun to fantasize about might-have-beens, but of course reality was different. Nothing would’ve happened between us, I told myself. But all that flew out the window when our glances caught.
Until I’d learned he was Doug’s kid, of course. Talk about inconvenient.
Just another reason nothing could happen. But my eyes kept finding him the whole afternoon—especially when I saw him willingly, happily, playing with Alia. Watching this young, hot guy being so kind and giving with my little niece… it curled into my belly and warmed something within me that had been strained for years. Myself, I didn’t get on with kids that easily. Caring for Alia had me running up a damn steep learning curve. But Cassidy seemed right at home. And his openness with her and the way she responded to it—hugging this guy she’d only known for a few hours—had me melting.
Maybe it was because most guys had a hard time letting themselves be that vulnerable. I know I did. I didn’t want to baby-talk and sit on the floor and play house or whatever-the-hell kids did. I never wanted to be with anyone under twelve since I’d turned thirteen. It took a lot of kindness and self-possession for a guy to put a kid before himself. And a kid that wasn’t his own? Or even related?
Fuck, my heart wasn’t used to this level of sappy emotion. And this was someone I could not get involved with. I vowed to avoid him at the party after that, but the house wasn’t all that big.
And then, just when I’d thought I was in the clear because he’d left the party, he had to come back and lure me down to the basement to grin and flirt and give me his number. It opened a hell of a Pandora’s box for me.
“Alia can have milk before her nap, but try to use the sippy cup instead of the bottle. The milk should calm her so she won’t fuss as much, so if you just--Will?”
“Huh?” I looked up. “Sorry, Kate. I’m listening.” Sure I was.
I hadn’t been able to focus on anything since that damn party. And I blamed being so scatter-brained on the fact that I had no one I could talk to about Cass. I’d tried with TJ, but it hadn’t gone over well.
“I can’t believe Cassidy is your nephew,” I’d told him the day after the party. “I didn’t expect him to already be graduated.”
“He’s twenty-three. He was thirteen when Margaret left.”
I shook my head. “He looks like a kid.”
“He is a kid.”
“Twenty-three isn’t that young.”
“We’re ten years older than him.” Nine technically, but, wisely, I didn’t point that out.
TJ had paused then and looked at me. “Why are you asking about him?”
“I wasn’t. I was just making a comment.”
I shrugged and hoped I hadn’t given anything away. TJ didn’t have much luck with women and even though he wanted kids and a family, it hadn’t happened—not yet anyway. So he doted on his nieces and nephews, and he was damn protective of them. Not that the guy didn’t trust me, but trying to hit on his nephew probably wouldn’t go over well.
I brought myself back to the present to find Kate staring me with a glint in her eye I didn’t like.
“What?” I asked.
“Who is he?”
She folded her arms across her chest. “Out with it.”
“Don’t you have to get to work?”
She gave her watch a cursory glance. “I’ve got time. So tell me his name.”
“Oh, come on. I’m a bit distracted and automatically it has to be a guy, right?”
The fact she was right made me pissed and defensive. I took a breath. “Look, it’s not something I can talk about ok?”
Of course that made her eyes glow—she was one step away from rubbing her hands together with glee. “Now you have to tell me!” she said, grinning.
“I really can’t.”
“Unless he’s some kind of secret agent or war criminal, I think you can.”
“Yes, secret agent, ya got me.”
With a chuckle, she shook her head and pinched my arm.
“Hey! You know I hate that!” I rubbed my bicep and tried to look wounded.
“And you know I hate people keeping things from me. Especially you. So spill already.”
I blew out a long breath. “You’re a gossip, and I can’t have you spreading this around.” I hoped I sounded serious enough. She frowned but didn’t argue; at least she recognized the truth.
“Is it some friend of mine?”
“One of our relatives?”
“Ok, we’ve covered everyone I talk to, so you’re in the clear.”
Grabbing my hair, I tugged. This is what I get for complaining I had no one to talk to. “You still have to be careful who you might mention it to, if I tell you.”
Uh-huh. But I was going to tell her and we both knew it.
“You know I went to TJ’s party last weekend.”
“Yeah.” Her brow wrinkled. I could almost see the gears moving in her head and coming up blank. “It’s one of TJ’s friends?”
“No. Will you just listen?”
I took a moment to pause. How to put this? “Just keep in mind that nothing is going to happen with this guy. But he’s the first person I’ve really been attracted to since…”
“Ok.” One word but I could hear her curiosity loud and clear.
“Doug was there of course—“
“Oh god! Not Doug!”
“No! Jesus, can you stop interrupting?”
I paused again, making her wait. “Anyway, like I was saying, Doug was there and a bunch of other guys were hanging out around the bar. One of them was this younger guy I’d seen at Sunshine Market. And... we talked. He was cute. But young.”
I glared. “The guy is Doug’s son.”
I had the satisfaction of seeing her eyes go comically wide, before I regretted letting her know.
“Well,” she said after a moment, “you said you weren’t going to pursue it, so it’s not that big a deal, right? Doug usually doesn’t even come out to TJ’s parties and stuff so his son probably won’t either.” She looked at me.
“What?” I asked.
“Was he mean?”
“Doug’s son? Like, could he tell you found him attractive and he was pissed or something?”
“No.” Although, given Doug’s political (and religious) leanings, her concern probably wasn’t far off base. Except… “The kid’s gay.”
“Oh.” Another comic deer-in-headlights look. It would’ve been so damn amusing, if I found the situation itself amusing instead of depressing. “Christ, it’s gotta be tough for him in that household.”
That was putting it lightly. “Yeah, well,” I said, “in any case, he’s too young, and even if he wasn’t it would be too complicated.” I leaned back and ran my hands through my hair. I needed a haircut.
Kate was eying me, but I pretended not to notice. I didn’t really want her sisterly advice on this one. And much to my relief (and surprise), she didn’t give it.
“I should head to work. We can talk more tonight if you want, ‘kay?”
I nodded and went to see what disaster Alia was up to in the bedroom.
We didn’t end up talking later, of course. Both of us were too damn tired for it. I’d put Alia to bed and had time to eat dinner, so after I kissed my sis goodbye I was left to return to my own place, which just didn’t sound appealing. But, frankly, neither did going out. Especially since I’d quit smoking and somehow Indiana had managed to hold-off a smoking ban in its bars. I inhaled enough to make up for a year without a cigarette with one night in a local dive.
I pulled out my phone, hesitated, then made a call.
“Why are you calling me?”
“Hello to you too.” I smiled. TJ was such smartass. “Want to grab a drink? I just got off baby duty.”
“I thought you had sworn off bars.”
Sometimes TJ had way too good a memory. I rolled my eyes and told him, “Not entirely, and that Dugan’s place has a patio. I’d be up for it.”
“Maybe another night. I got an early start tomorrow. Not all of us live your carefree lifestyle.” I could hear the smile in his voice.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said with a snort. “That’s me, between babysitting and staring at my computer I’m totally carefree.”
“I’ll see you soon, man. And don’t forget to open that letter!”
I sighed as I ended the call and started walking. The night was nice but cool, with that autumn tang to it that promised cold weather to come, even as the summer tried in vain to hold it back. The trees rustled in the breeze and I kicked a stone in my path.
The calm of the night should’ve put me in a good mood. I loved easy late-summer nights like this—when the night breeze was so perfect it feels like water over your skin. A car went by, music blaring and bass so deep it made my chest vibrate. I glared at the retreating back window and tried to push down my annoyance.
A lot bothered me lately, more than it used to. I was definitely too young to start becoming a grumpy old man. And compared to just a couple years before, life was going well. On paper at least—but I couldn’t feel it. Maybe I was just waiting for the ax to fall. It had been one thing after another for so long, I didn’t know how to relax even when things were fine.
And the matters that weren’t fine—like my personal life or my moodiness—well, I really didn’t want to examine those. You could only self-reflect so much before you tumbled into that reflecting pool and drowned. So I’d had my heart broken. So what?
That happened to everyone at one time or another. People got over it, moved on. Sure, what I’d been through might have been more than most people had to deal with when it came to break-ups, but in the end I still just had to find a way to suck it up. It had been years already, for Christ’s sake.
What I needed was to start something new. It was easy to use Katie and Alia as an excuse to just sit around and keep the status quo, but I wasn’t really doing myself any favors.
I should plan my next trip; that would help. Even if I couldn’t leave Kate and Alia again this soon, I could book the flight now so I would get a good deal—and be gone for the worst of the winter.
My phone rang and I felt a pang of hope that TJ had changed his mind. But I didn’t recognize the number. That was odd. Especially at this time of night. I almost didn’t answer, but somehow found myself saying, “Hello?”
“You didn’t call.”
I blinked, about to ask who the hell this was—then the voice registered. “Cassidy?”
A soft chuckle met my ear. “Good guess. Have you got a lot of guys calling like this?”
“Obviously not.” I smiled, irrationally pleased to hear him. “And especially not guys I never gave my number to.”
“I asked Uncle TJ for it.”
I gave a quiet ‘ahh’ in reply and wondered what TJ had thought of that little request. Then I told myself it didn’t matter. Nothing was going to happen between us, anyway. “What excuse did you give, exactly?”
“For wanting your number? So you could be my big gay mentor, what else?”
I almost snorted as I laughed. “You’re crazy, kid.”
“Call me Cass.”
I paused. There was a soft undertone in his voice, subtle, but I knew enough to notice. I really had to end this now, before it began. I had to set him straight (as is were).
“Cass it is then.”
* * *
I checked my watch for the thousandth time and once again berated myself for what a bad idea this was. I was waiting in the one Mediterranean restaurant in town for a guy who I was not meeting for a date. Anything but, actually. Although I doubted Cass realized that—and I knew that wasn’t fair, but, well, some things were just better explained in person than over the phone. Right?
Or maybe I was being a chicken shit. Or maybe I couldn’t help wondering what a date with Cass would feel like before I threw the hatchet down.
Trying not to fidget, I took a breath and sat back in my chair. The restaurant was small, located in a non-descript, old style strip mall (meaning the storefront met the sidewalk with the parking lot behind) off a busy street, and I came here enough that they knew me and I could be relaxed. Or relatively relaxed, considering why I was here. Cass seemed like a good, level-headed kid, but what if he made a scene? Better to have it happen somewhere that the wait staff already knew me enough not to think I was some weirdo or shmuck.
I checked my watch again. Five o’clock exactly. Too early to make this an official ‘date night’. Maybe Cass would think better of it and not show up. Maybe--
He walked in from the back door and my heart skipped. It fucking skipped. He was wearing a fitted flannel shirt and jeans and my reaction was still that visceral.
No, I had been right the first time. This was a bad, bad idea.