“Goddamn it.” Ben rounded the island and spun the dial to cut the heat to the skillet. The smart choice would be to walk the hell out the front door, but when had he ever been known for being the brains in the room?
The swing, a spur of the moment purchase, had been hauled into the bed of his truck before he truly realized what he’d done. Mrs. Dupree deserved to have the comforts of home when she came to the city. He’d repeated the notion over and over trying to not look in the review mirror at the coward staring back.
Pulling the cap off his head, he ran his palm over the contrasting landscapes of his face. The bilateral façade, a true before and after like one of those make-over pictures online. Only, his submission went in reverse.
What if Luke’s pretty boy pulled up in the driveway? What if he brought ridiculously expensive matching cups of coffee with the cardboard wrap around the center? Shit, probably some douchebag toting blueberry pastries from a swanky deli in the city. What if they sat on the porch swing every evening and talked about pretty boy’s stock purchases and Luke saving some cat from a tree?
He fought the urge to grab the damn drill and take the thing apart. “Shit.” Slipping the cap back on, he headed for the dining room. Several boxes still sat unopened on the floor next to the narrow hallway leading to the first floor bathroom.
“You never cared that I used your toothbrush the times I stayed over at your mom and dad’s, but you acted like sticking your tongue in my mouth was a mortal sin. Some would disagree. Using someone else’s toothbrush is like licking a dog’s ass. It’s just sacrilegious. I think you’d agree after kissing me in Jessica Roger’s bathroom senior year that it’s much better than the prospect of licking a dog’s ass?”
Jesus. That felt like a million years ago. “Maybe. You weren’t that great of a kisser.” When he spun around a shirtless Luke lurked at the base of the stairs, the thin line of dark hair streaked from the base of his flat belly button to disappear under the low hung waist of his jeans.
The sleek muscular ridges framing the narrow hips he’d held onto, pressed hard against the cheap light blue vanity in Jessica’s trailer, made his stomach flip and dive. Just like they had back then.
Now, the same young man, shy with a slight smile when they’d walk into the locker room showers, stood with the confidence of a man who’d fought blazing fires and saved countless lives. Regret strangled the sweet memory.
But, that smile, the same sexy innocent grin Luke had when they’d stood outside the 1994 Ford truck he and his dad had bought from Killman’s junk yard remained. And still caused his dick to thicken and twitch.
“I gotta go.” Pacing toward the door, he paused when Luke leaned against the wooden post at the bottom of the staircase. “What?”
“I hate that hat.”
The screen door knob rested in his hand. One turn and he’d never have to come back. Never have to see the man who reminded him he’d lost his humanity that night at his sister’s. “I’m supposed to give a shit? I like it.”
Turn the fucking knob.
“Mom will love the swing. How much do I owe you? I don’t want you to think I’m expecting anything out of this little class reunion. I’ll pay what you put into it.”
Goddamnit, it was a gift. Not for the smart ass man poking at his inner bear, but for the woman who brought him peach cobbler after every debridement because she’d walked in after one session and knew the intense pain it caused to have half his face scrapped off for new cells to grow.
Lucy’s cobbler always made the desperation to feel human again more bearable. At least until the anxiety meds faded and reality kicked him square in the nuts. Not even peach cobbler could cut through the shadowed nightmares waking him up in a drenched sweat.
There would be no more happy days.
“You don’t owe me anything. You never did. It’s for your mom not for you.”
“I get it. After about the seventeenth email and countless unanswered messages I stopped knocking my head against the wall, Ben. Nothing’s ever been for me when it came to you. Not when you went to the academy, when you moved to Shreveport without saying goodbye. Not when you kicked me out of your hospital room. I had to read online about the biker you saved in that shootout a couple years ago. They gave you an award and you couldn’t even share that with me.”
Luke’s bare feet silently rested on the wood floor and the impression of the thick smoke drenched walls of the burning house were closing in all over again. Rooting his booted feet, he crossed his arms over his chest, forcing the breaths to come and go through his lungs.
“Then I saw Zach. He said you were home from the hospital and he’d been at your house. The asshole smiled. He actually smiled and said he’d been your medicine. Like, he was some cock sucking god and he’d healed you with one magic fuck. You never even let me touch you, Ben! We spent days, nights, weekends, shifts at the dock together, and you never once let me touch you like that. Forget it. Why are we doing this? Why am I letting you do this? The shit in your head is toxic.”
The click of the vintage screen door resonated in the silence left behind by the words he knew he deserved. Yeah, he’d let their friend come over and suck his dick. It didn’t matter the whole right side of his face was a mangled mess of fresh grafts and raw flesh. Zach had been asking him out for weeks and didn’t give a shit about a relationship. Reality rested between life and death and testing the boundaries to see if he’d actually survived the fire, the scorching air burning his lungs, the searing pain shooting through his face and arm, beating the multiple surgeries made fucking Zach seem like a logical plan at the time.
That plan carried over and the myth between life and death remained an illusion. Sebastian, another casualty of his personal war, blurred into the canvas of emptiness.
The shrill bang of the wooden door snapping closed framed his voice. “Toxic? My head is fucking toxic? Why is it there’s no one else on this planet that pisses me off as much as you do? The guys at the shop think I basically have no fucking emotions because I never raise my voice, I never run my mouth about any drama, and I sure as hell don’t burden anyone with my shit. But, you—I want to punch a goddamn wall every time I think about your stupid face. This is all your fault with your hero, save the day, bullshit. So big deal. You saved the drunk cop who couldn’t stop a fucking madman from blowing his wife’s brains all over the lawn. So. Fucking. What. You’re the only one who’s happy about it.”
The swoosh of the heavy paneled front door skimming his torso narrowly missed his hand when he reached out to open the screen door again. Luke smacked the rectangular leaded glass window in the center crowding the space making the only escape running to the back door in the kitchen.
“Happy?” Luke’s naked chest rose and fell pulling all attention to the perfectly round nipples flattened against the hills of firm muscle. “I’m relieved your family still has a son. An uncle. A brother. Yeah, Damon deserved to see his brother again and your sister’s kids deserved to have their uncle. So, yeah, I’m glad you’re standing here breathing, but I hate you. I hate you, Ben, for being…You!”
The brim of his hat tipped when Luke reached out and popped the bill with his index finger.
“Stop it.” He righted the damn thing and reached for the door handle. “Hate me. You’ve got a long line to stand in, buddy.”
The vibrating rumble in his chest intensified when Luke stepped back and flicked the bill of his hat again, this time sending the worn yellow and purple hat spiraling onto the floor.
The room, at one time, felt airy and relaxing when he’d been up late patching the plaster walls and listening to old Hank William’s songs, but now, with two men standing in the modest room the space suffocated every cell in his body.
Luke’s tight grip snagged his wrist, turning until the pinch forced him to shuffle his feet to keep from tumbling against the smooth taper of his waist.
“Pick up that hat and I’m putting you in a headlock. I know this isn’t going anywhere. That’s a mutual decision. Trust me. I don’t need your kind of crazy in my life right now. I’ve got enough going on the way it is. Three eggs, wheat toast, strawberry jam. You were always a drama queen with that brooding attitude so I assume since that hasn’t changed your preferences haven’t either?”
The hat stared back like a dead fish waiting to be filleted. Twisting his wrist, he broke free and scratched the flattened hairs on top of his head. It wasn’t like they needed to talk anymore. Everything had been said. They hated each other. They blamed each other. And Zach needed his ass beat for opening his damn mouth.
And, the throbbing head of his dick was ready to bust between the teeth of his zipper.
Cursing the morning sun for casting light sprays through the picture window, he tilted his head to escape the glare. To hide. Sure, the firefighter had seen plenty of burns, but those eyes, the irises flecked with emerald in pools of chestnut, made the scrutiny too personal.
“Your mom’s strawberry jam?”
He could’ve done without the smartass smirk.
“Yeah. Come on. This will be our goodbye. I’m going to mom and dad’s tomorrow and won’t be around for a couple of days. I figure when I get back we can navigate the area to avoid each other. I work in the city, you work in the neighborhoods. We can make it so we don’t end up killing each other.”
Watching the strips of tight sun-bronzed muscles shift along the streamline of Luke’s spine further wound the tightening coil in his stomach. Being a cop had dulled almost every sense, but damn if the man spouting something over his shoulder, didn’t stir every feeling he’d ever tried to bury.
Leaving the hat resting in the sun spot on the living room floor, he walked into the kitchen just in time to watch Luke cracking eggs on the side of the skillet. Crossing his arms over his chest to keep from shoving his hand down the front of his jeans, he hoped Luke didn’t have to bend over for anything. If the guy knew what was good for him, he’d keep the hell upright.
“Yeah, my dick’s hard right now too.”
The taunt made two things happen. At once. That fucking Ying and Yang bullshit crowded the hate-lust combo he’d been sporting since Luke showed up to tour the house. His mouth opened and his cock leaked. The flickering pulses sent heat through his groin tightening his balls. The feeling both enjoyable and fucking painful.
Luke peeked over his shoulder before turning with the spatula gripped in his fist. “I see you’re still a big boy. You should’ve let me suck it that night on the dock. Now, you’ll never know how talented my mouth is and don’t think I didn’t see you jacking off when we went swimming.”
Resting his elbows on the island counter, he leaned over to cradle the mismatched sides of his cheeks in his palms. Anger decided to be a betraying bitch as the memory invaded his skull. It hadn’t been his fault. They’d shed their trunks, and in the safety of the darkness, cannonballed off the half dilapidated dock and swam out to find the cool spots in the water.
He dropped his head when the warm pressure from Luke’s hand wrapped around the base of his neck. Never a surrender, he only needed a quick reprieve.
“I want you to hate fuck me right now. I want you to bang the cum right out of me, but we both know there’s nothing left for us. Think about it. There’s only ever been three kisses anyways.”
“Stop.” Choking out a breath, Ben rolled his forehead against the sweat misting his fingertips. “I don’t want—“
“Yes, you do. You want it as much as I do.” His fingertips rolled in a slow massage. “You want to feel less dead, feel my mouth sucking your dick. I want to escape the fact I always open up, trust the wrong guys. And, I want to swallow the taste of your skin. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Some relief for once. Too bad you’re not—“
The cadence of his heart thrashed inside his chest crashing thought after thought into a drunken haze. “How about you shut up and use that mouth for something else besides talking. Finish this.”
DAMAGED : A TATTERED CLUB STORY will be ready for pre-order in March!