“I SAID I was sorry, okay?” Lee looked at Jim, the owner of the bar, and shrugged. “My car broke down again, and I had to catch the bus.”
“You live twenty minutes from here,” Jim growled. “On foot!” He stuck his finger in Lee’s face and then turned back to the bar. “Now get your ass over here and start serving the fucking customers before I fire you.”
“Jesus, Jim, what’s the problem?” Lee didn’t feel like letting this go. “Have I ever been late, even once? Called in sick, even once?” Lee took his spot behind the bar, pulling the half-apron around his narrow hips, his brain telling him to keep his mouth shut, but his pride was winning out. He watched as Jim pointed a finger at him again and then turned away, muttering something under his breath.
“What can I get you?” Lee asked the tall blond standing in front of the bar, his anger preventing him from seeing who the man really was.
“Looks like I should be asking you that.”
Lee looked up and felt his chest tighten. It’s him!
Lee’s mind screamed those words over and over again as he looked up into that white smile and saw those incredible hazel eyes for the first time in… how old am I? Lee couldn’t even do the mental math necessary to figure out how long it had been since he’d seen Ryan Marshall, the swim instructor he’d been in love with since he was ten years old. “Nah,” Lee downplayed it all. “I’m okay. He’s probably just in one of those moods.”
“Okay, then.” Ryan smiled and nodded. “Can I get a Heineken, please?”
“Sure thing, Ryan.” Lee turned, closing his eyes and chastising himself for letting it slip, and reached into the fridge behind him for one of the green bottles.
“Do I… know you?” Ryan’s gaze lighted on Lee’s flushed face.
“Well….” Lee squirmed for a moment, wondering if he should be honest or tell him that he’d seen the tall, buff blond in here before. Lee decided to tell the truth, since he honestly could never remember seeing Ryan in the bar before; that didn’t mean he’d never been in, but if Lee didn’t know your name, you weren’t a regular. “You were my swim instructor at the Pan Am back when I was ten.”
“Oh wow!” Ryan extended his hand across the shiny surface of the bar, and Lee took it, his heart fluttering at the touch. “Don’t tell me. If I had to guess, with those big blue eyes and that mischievous little grin, I’d say… Lee Campbell?”
“You’re good!” Lee couldn’t be sure right at that moment whether his feet were touching the ground; he felt like he was floating, being carried away by those hazel eyes and that sincere-as-a-preacher smile.
Ryan waved away the compliment and leaned a little closer, and Lee couldn’t help but notice the little white lines around Ryan’s twinkling eyes, the kind you got from squinting out in the sunlight. It made him even sexier somehow; it showed Lee the man liked to get outside and enjoy the sun.
Lee’s mind couldn’t help but wander to those swimming lessons of so long ago and wonder if Ryan still looked like a golden god in those red Speedos. Lee would always arrive early, get suited up, and just sit on the edge of the pool watching Ryan with his students, demonstrating this move or that stroke. Lee didn’t have any kind of sexual feelings at the time, of course. It was more hero worship or a crush like little kids get for someone bigger and stronger, someone who made them want to be more.
Lee wanted to ask Ryan what he remembered about having him as a student; it was a crazy thought that made him want to know why Ryan remembered him. But as the waiters and customers alike kept yelling drink orders at him, he gave up on finding out. It would have to wait until another time. Lee rolled his eyes as he swept his arms to the side to indicate how busy he was. “Listen, are you here for a while, or….” He wondered if the question was a little too forward but decided he’d rather get shot down now than keep wondering about the possibilities.
Ryan smiled. “I came with a friend, but he left with someone about fifteen minutes ago. I was just having one last beer and then heading home.”
“Oh. Right. Okay.” Lee’s disappointment was clear in his voice; he didn’t even try to pretend otherwise. “Well.” He shrugged and tried to offer a sincere smile. “It was great seeing you again. You take care of yourself.”
“Or….” Ryan moved a few feet to his left and perched on top of a stool, grinning wryly. “I could just wait here until you’re not so busy, and then we can talk.”
Lee’s face must have registered how crazy he was about that idea because Ryan just laughed, bared those white teeth, and winked. With a nod, Lee set to work filling orders. He was worried about how often he was stealing glances, but Lee’s grin grew when he realized Ryan was sneaking his own fair share too. It made the time fly by, Lee found, to have something else to focus on besides the lecherous, wandering hands and the mean drunks who seemed to be drawn to him as if he were a mickey of Jack Daniels.
After about an hour, Lee couldn’t resist sliding his way down the bar to visit with Ryan. He did take a wet cloth with him, so he could at least pretend to wipe down that section of the bar that was already spotless.
As he got nearer to where Ryan sat, tanned forearm hanging off the padded edge of the mahogany bar top, Lee couldn’t bring himself to look up; he couldn’t even think of anything to say. He busied himself with the nonexistent stains of the bar’s smooth surface and found his mouth getting drier as each swirl of the wet cloth brought him closer and closer to the object of his teenage fantasies. Chastising himself for being so silly and immature, Lee took the two more steps necessary to put him in front of Ryan. “So—”
“How long—” Both men laughed as their questions intercepted each other. Lee chuckled at the picture they must have presented and motioned for Ryan to go first.
“How long have you worked here?”
“About three years.” Lee was about to continue asking his question but was again cut off by Ryan.
“That would explain why I’ve never seen you here, then.” Ryan looked up in time to see the puzzled look on the younger man’s face. “I haven’t been here in almost ten years.”
“Oh.” Lee raised his eyebrows and let his forearms come to rest on the bar. “So you’re not into the whole meat market thing, then, huh?”
“No.” Ryan shook his head and turned to face Lee. “It’s not that, really.” Ryan hesitated for a moment wondering how much information he should give. “It’s complicated.” Ryan shrugged and tossed a look at Lee that seemed to convey either discomfort or embarrassment.
“Complicated?” Lee looked puzzled, but then his eyebrows shot up, and he backed off the bar so that he was merely leaning against it with his palms, elbows locked. “Oh,” Lee finally said, “you mean a jealous boyfriend.”
“No,” Ryan said with a chuckle, “no romantic commitments.” He looked at Lee and offered a sincere smile. “There’s just a lot going on in my life right now. I only came out tonight because of my friend; he wanted to come out and….” Ryan considered repeating that he’d been abandoned by his friend but decided he’d probably just sound bitter.
Lee grinned and leaned back, slapping the cloth into his open palm. “Then I guess I’ll just have to keep you entertained until midnight.”
Ryan’s forehead creased. “Why midnight?”
“That’s when I’m done.” Lee hoped that there was no mistaking the look in his eyes.
“Really.” Ryan wasn’t really asking a question; he let his lips curl into a knowing smile and asked, “Did you have something in mind?” Ryan’s grin grew exponentially as he watched Lee give a slow nod.