Silas Spencer was ten years old when he finally realized that his imaginary friends weren’t exactly imaginary.
They were very much real.
Of course, they were also very much dead, but oddly enough, Silas wasn’t freaked out by the realization that he could not only see, but easily converse with what he came to call “displaced” souls, because he didn’t like the stigma attached to the word ghost. His grandfather had always told him that the men in their family often possessed unique “gifts” that many couldn’t understand and that what people couldn’t understand, they tended to dismiss as impossible or insane.
His mother was among those people.
When he tried to tell her about his “gift” she dismissed it, told him she didn’t want to hear him say such a thing again; and she even coolly insisted that her father-in-law’s brain had long been pickled by Irish whisky combined with homemade moonshine.
But Silas knew better; he knew his grandfather was right.
He had a gift, however perplexing it might be, and he took pride in it because he knew the gift gave him a chance to really help those who needed it.
More often than not, those that came to him didn’t realize they were dead, or they just wanted to connect with someone one last time before crossing over.
At least, it was that way in the beginning.
As time passed, his otherworldly visitors asked him for help in getting a final message to those they were leaving behind.
Usually, he could convey the departed’s final words in a letter with no return address, or a phone call from a phone booth that couldn’t be traced back to him. And naturally, he never told his mother what he was doing. She would have gone into full meltdown mode, refused to allow him any time alone with his grandfather, and his father would have backed her because John Spencer usually did whatever it took to avoid dealing with an angry Mary Spencer.
“My boy has no balls, lad. Damn shame, too. Don’t you be like him, ya hear?”
Grady Spencer never pulled his punches, which Silas respected and admired. For four years, he was able to confide his experiences with his displaced spirits and Grady never doubted him; he just told him to always do what he knew to be right.
The idea that he would ever have to live without his grandfather’s support never really occurred to him, until one night, just after he turned fourteen, he awakened to find his grandfather sitting on the edge of his bed. And instantly, he knew.
Grady Spencer had come to say a final good-bye.
“My life was a good one, lad, so don’t you be sad.”
“You got a gift, Silas. Use it. And always be true to yourself, no matter what.”
When his father told him the next morning that his grandfather was gone, Silas only nodded, but said nothing about the final visit. He knew it would anger his mother and he considered it personal; that his grandfather had cared enough to see him one more time before crossing over was a reality he held close to his heart.
Wanting to honor his grandfather, he never shied away from helping anyone who came to him, and he made plans to do more, once he could live away from his parents and his mother’s disapproval of anything and everything she didn’t understand.
Of course, he didn’t expect to be thrown out of his parents’ house when he was only seventeen, but that was exactly what happened when he sat his mother and father down and told them he was gay, that he could no longer deny it to himself or anyone else.
He often suspected his father might have found it in his heart to accept him, but John Spencer again proved he was a weak-willed man by standing and doing nothing when Mary told their only son to pack everything he owned and get out. It was, according to Mary, too much for her to accept. She couldn’t handle the stigma, couldn’t fathom dealing with the fallout if and when her friends found out her son was involved with such a “shameful” lifestyle. After listening to her rant and rage, Silas felt more angry than hurt by her reaction.
His father, when his mother wasn’t watching, handed him an envelope with a thousand dollars in it and the private number to his office.
“Call me wherever you settle and I will send more money.”
Pride urged Silas to hand the money back over and tell his father to go to hell, but reality spoke a little louder, reminding him that he really had no way to support himself, which meant he had to rely on his father’s secret help, at least until he could find a decent job.
“I guess money is easier to give than acceptance.”
“You have every right and every reason to resent me, Silas, but you’ll learn in life that a lot of people aren’t as strong as you. You are more like your grandfather than I ever was, and I admire you for that and I have no doubt that, because you are so much like him, you will be fine.”
It was the first, and the last time, his father ever made such a statement.
When Silas called and told his father he had landed in Atlanta, John took his address and said he would send money monthly, but he asked that Silas not call him again for fear his wife would find out and possibly leave him.
He couldn’t, wouldn’t, risk losing everything.
“When I get a job, I’ll pay back all of the money.”
“That isn’t necessary, Silas.”
“For me, it is. I don’t want to owe you anything. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
“I’m not sorry I’m gay and I’m not sorry that I have this gift that makes me different, but I’m sorry for you, because even if I have some hard times ahead of me, I’m free and you will never be able to say the same. That is sad and you don’t even realize it.”
Three months after moving to Atlanta, he earned his GED, started taking college classes at night, and found a job working as a researcher for Peterson, McGuire, and Lawson, a prestigious law firm that allowed him a flexible schedule. It worked for attending college but it also gave him time to get lost in his true passion—painting. He even hoped to make a name for himself in the art world but he knew how elusive such dreams could prove to be, which compelled him to earn his degree in business management and marketing.
When he had his degree in hand, Peterson, McGuire, and Lawson offered him a job as Office Manager and the salary they attached to the offer prompted him to happily accept even if it wasn’t the most exciting job in the world.
He had enough excitement, trying to deal with his visits from those he was destined to help.
It wasn’t a nightly occurrence, but close, and normally he could stick to his usual method of a letter or phone call to deliver the final message. That was fine with Silas.
He really didn’t relish the idea of approaching someone face to face, but in the back of his mind, he suspected the time would come when he would have to do just that. He told himself he would find a way to handle it, when it did happen, Despite frequently using his gift, he was still able to focus on work, on painting, but having a love life tended to be a more difficult accomplishment.
Lovers and potential lovers bolted when he tried to explain to them that no, he really wasn’t talking to himself in the middle of the night; as strange as it seemed, he was conversing with a displaced spirit that needed guidance, help, or both.
No one told him he was crazy, to his face, but he knew what they were thinking.
Truthfully, Silas didn’t really care if people thought he was crazy. He had learned from his grandfather not to worry about the opinions of others, but he did find it depressing that he could attract a man’s interest, only to lose it when he had to be completely honest about himself.
Apparently, being successful, intelligent, and good-looking weren’t enough marks in the plus column to negate the fact that he talked to dead people, and it wasn’t arrogance on his part that allowed him to consider himself good-looking.
He had heard it often enough to believe it.
At six-one, he stayed active working out three days a week and playing basketball with friends from work. He had always loved being outdoors; each year he took a week-long camping trip, which allowed him a chance to do some hiking, rock-climbing, and white-water rafting and as a result, he took a certain pride in knowing he didn’t look like a man who spent up to fifty hours each week working behind a cluttered desk.
An interesting mix of Irish and Italian heritage gifted him with fair skin, midnight black hair, and ice-blue eyes that were generally the first feature people noticed, though a former boyfriend had told him once that his best feature was his mouth.
“Full, heart-shaped lips designed for kissing and cock-sucking.”
Recalling the statement always reminded Silas of why he had dumped that guy before he had to explain his special gift.
For the most part, he handled the lack of real relationships well, but at times, the need for basic human contact ate at him until he finally reached out to someone, desperate to spend a few hours feeling as if someone wanted him.
As if someone gave a damn.
He was always careful with his one-night stands. He knew all the risk involved, but he had one bar he went to often, where he felt safe and comfortable. It wasn’t a common thing for him to go there, to look for no-strings-attached sex, just a few times a year when he was feeling really alone and he didn’t have a soon-to-fall-apart’ attempt at an actual relationship in the works.
One surprisingly cool autumn evening, ten years after he first arrived in Atlanta, he was feeling that need to connect with someone when he decided to slip into The Nucleus, to see if he could come across anyone interesting.
Five minutes after he arrived and found a seat at the bar, Silas saw him.
And he knew he had to have him.
He was standing alone at the other end of the bar, looking slightly nervous, which made Silas wonder if this was new to him. But he had no doubt at all that the guy wouldn’t be alone for long, if he didn’t want to be.
Hopefully, he will be with me.
It looked to Silas as if he and the beauty were around the same height and the black jeans and chest-hugging black, long sleeved T-shirt nicely displayed well-defined muscles that would certainly be all the more appealing once clothing ceased to be a barrier. His olive skin looked smooth and soft, and his dark brown hair was just a little long, but fashionably so. Watching him, Silas wondered what color his eyes were.
And if his lips were as soft as they looked, even from a fair distance.
Downing the last of his beer, he waved the bartender over, ordered another drink, and requested the bartender send a drink to the object of his interest.
“Any idea who he is, Bert?”
The bartender shook his head. “Never been in here before, that I recall.”
“Well, I think he deserves a proper welcome.”
“I’ll leave that to you, Silas.”
He didn’t need to tell Bert he intended to do just that, as he watched the bartender deliver the drink to the other man, gesturing slyly toward Silas to let him know just who was interested.
Silas simply smiled when he looked in his direction, deciding to sit and wait for a moment, to see if the stranger would actually approach him, or if he would have to make the move.
Either way, Silas knew he would at least find out the guy’s name.
After ten minutes, Silas watched quietly as the other man finally crossed over to where he sat, sitting down on the stool beside him.
“Thanks for the drink.”
“Any time. I’m Silas, by the way.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Josh.”
Up close, he could see Josh had green eyes fringed with dark lashes and when he smiled, he had the most charming dimples that gave him a certain, almost innocent, charm.
Silas was hooked.
“I’ve never seen you here before, Josh.”
“First time. I just moved to Atlanta to start a new job.”
“Where are you from originally?”
“You are a long way from home.”
It was easy to fall into a flirtatious banter with Josh. He was smart and charming and he had a great sense of humor. He didn’t extend a lot of personal information, but neither did Silas. He knew how to keep things casual, but he also knew what he wanted, and despite seeming a little on the shy side, he knew Josh wanted the same thing.
Normally, Silas was reluctant to take anyone back to his apartment for the night, but with Josh, he didn’t hesitate.
And it was incredible.
Josh was indeed a little shy at first, but that changed quickly and Silas discovered passion ran deep and wild and every touch had each of them begging for more.
The night was intense and wonderful. Exhausted, they fell asleep together, but when Silas woke up the next morning, Josh was gone, leaving only a note behind.
You have no idea what last night meant to me. It was incredible. I can’t thank you enough and for what it is worth, I am sorry that I have to leave it this way.
Meeting you is enough to make me wish things could be different.
Believe me when I say I will never forget you.
The note created questions, but it didn’t answer any. Silas told himself to take the encounter for what it had been: an extraordinary one-night stand. Not his first, but certainly the first to make such an impact that he wanted, almost needed, to see the man again. He had little information to go on, so he did what seemed logical.
He went back to the bar where he had met Josh every night for a week, but Josh never showed up and Bert eventually promised to keep an eye out and let Silas know if he dropped in.
“Must have been some seriously good sex.”
“It was. But…I just need to see him again.”
He couldn’t explain to Bert, or anyone, that it had been more than sex; he had connected with Josh in a way he had never really connected with anyone before. He didn’t know exactly what happened between them, but he wanted to find out if Josh had felt it too. After two weeks, he began to suspect that he would never see Josh again.
And then he did.
He was at his desk when one of the senior partners, Chad Lawson, brought by their newest associate to make introductions and Silas looked up to find himself face to face with his sexy, mysterious one-night stand.
“Silas, this is Josh Dalton and he will be heading up the litigation department.”
“Please. Call me Josh.”
Completely casual, showing no indication they had ever met before, Josh shook his hand and Silas smiled and played along. What choice did he have? Asking where the hell he had disappeared to after a night of mind-blowing sex wouldn’t have been appropriate, and while Chad knew Silas was gay, Silas suddenly suspected no one knew the same about Josh Dalton.
As Chad led Josh away to another introduction, Silas sent a look that made it clear to Josh they needed to talk alone.
Later that evening, as he was preparing to go home, Josh came into his office and closed the door, leaning against it as he turned to face Silas.
“I had no idea you worked here.”
“We never talked about our jobs, so…yeah, it’s a surprise.”
“Let me guess this one. No one knows you’re gay? And as far as you’re concerned, they can’t.”
To Josh’s credit, he did look ashamed. “It’s complicated.”
“Well, I have a little bit of knowledge when it comes to complicated.”
“My situation…. I can’t explain it, Silas, and I’m not sorry for what happened between us, but it was a onetime thing and I have to ask you not to tell anyone about it.”
“I don’t fuck and tell, so your shameful little secret is safe with me.”
“Save it.” He was too disgusted to hear more. “Get out. You avoid me and I’ll avoid you.”
Josh didn’t argue. He simply did as Silas said and Silas set about putting the memory of their night together from his mind, but it wasn’t easy. He and Josh didn’t cross paths often, but when they did, it was hard to look at the man and not remember in vivid detail what it felt like to be buried inside of him as he came.
It was impossible not to remember his taste, the feel of his skin, the sensation of those full lips wrapped around his cock.
Occasionally, the way he caught Josh looking at him told Silas he remembered too, but when he came to any office function, he always brought a girlfriend.
And never the same one twice.
It was all more than a little sad, as far as Silas was concerned, but he learned to live with it and after three years, he was pretty good at going out of his way to avoid Josh Dalton. He fully intended to continue doing so.
Until fate intervened in the form of one of his special visitors and Silas found himself face to face with the last person he had ever expected to meet.
Josh’s recently departed mother.