A VOICE cried out of the desert.
Callum turned and tensed as he saw a man running toward him, hair bouncing in his face. For some reason, Callum’s first impulse was to climb back into his little blue Camry and hit the gas. He shook himself. For goodness’ sake, why was he so jumpy?
Callum had been quite comfortable in his air-conditioned car, his mind in other places. The car windows had limited his view of the world around him, allowing him to see only a small patch of sky in every direction and the endless black ribbon of the road before and behind. But then nature called, and when he spotted the small gas station, he figured he’d better stop. Who knew when the next opportunity would arrive? He needed gas anyway.
He’d gasped at the heat when he’d gotten out of the car. He hadn’t realized just how hot it was. But it was only after slipping the gas pump nozzle into the tank that he looked up to see the impossible.
Strange and beautiful, the desert stretched out around him in every direction, as if he had stepped out into the very center of the everlasting. There had been nothing for his eyes or mind to lock on to. The colors were surreal—gold, pink, white, indigo, brass, orange, algae green—and the horizon looked flat, not three-dimensional at all. It almost gave him vertigo. He’d staggered a second, almost feeling like he might fall up. The few scattered clouds and the mountains in the distance looked like a part of the most gigantic painting in the world, like he could almost reach out and touch it.
It was the voice breaking the unearthly silence that allowed him to tear his eyes away from the sky and that flat, flat, flat horizon and focus instead on the rapidly approaching man.
“You’re heading east, right?” the man asked, stopping just behind the car. He was wearing jeans and a tank top, damp with sweat, and had a backpack slung over one shoulder. He pushed the dark brown hair, which had stuck to his forehead, out of his face.
The man smiled broadly, cheeks dimpling. “Look. I’m stuck here in the middle of fucking nowhere, and I’d do almost anything to get to civilization. I’d be glad to fill your tank if you’d give me a ride to at least the next town….”
Callum looked the guy up and down. And while he looked a little dirty, he didn’t look dangerous. Callum found himself relaxing just a little bit.
The guy put a hand on his hip. “Look, I know you don’t know me from Buddha, but please, I’m not going to rip you off or anything. Pat me down if you want to!” He shrugged the pack off his shoulder and held it out. “You can even look through my bag. No gun, no knife. I promise. And, man, I gotta get the hell out of here!”
Callum tried to shake off the last vestiges of suspicion, but couldn’t quite help himself. Chalk it up to self-preservation and city life. “How did you get here in the first place?” he asked.
The man sighed and rolled his eyes desert-skyward. “Damned trucker. He wanted to fuck me, and I said no, so he left me here….”
Straight, Callum thought, and gave him another quick once-over and forgot about his misgivings. The guy seemed harmless, and he was pretty hot, straight or not. Nice broad hairy chest, gorgeous blue eyes (and Callum was always a sucker for blue eyes), with tiny little lines around them and the corners of his mouth. Made him look like a man and not some twink. A quick glance showed that he had quite an ample basket, besides. No wonder the trucker had wanted to have sex with him. Callum realized he wouldn’t mind a little roll with the guy himself.
“Please, man, help a guy out?” the stranger asked and smiled that dimpled smile.
Callum looked around them, saw the hopeless situation the man was in. Damn. What could he do? Callum found himself smiling back. “Well, if you let me pat you down first….”
Why had he said that? But he knew the answer to that. It was David, pure and simple.
The man smirked and raised a brow, then laid the backpack on the trunk, spread his hands, and leaned against the car in the classic stance. “Pat away,” he said.
Was that was a lascivious note he heard in the man’s voice? Lord, David would be going crazy with excitement by now! Callum took a half step forward and froze. What are you doing? You’re acting just like David, for God’s sake! This is someone in trouble, not a trick in a bathhouse. And the guy was straight, for goodness’ sake! Hadn’t he just said that?
Ashamed, Callum tried to laugh. “No, that’s okay,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious you don’t have anything hidden on you….” Which was certainly true. As tight as the man’s jeans were—especially over his crotch and ass—there was no way he was hiding anything, let alone a weapon. As a matter of fact, what he did have in those pants was pretty much right out there on display.
Dammit, there you go again, Callum scolded himself, but he was already feeling a shifting in his own jeans, and all he could do was lean against the car and hope that the guy couldn’t see what was happening. “Sure, I’ll give you a ride. I was just thinking I needed some company anyway. And a half tank will be plenty.”
“Nope!” said the man, his smile brilliant as the desert sun. “I’m filling you up! And don’t try to argue with me!”
You can certainly fill me up all you want, Callum thought, and again realized how fast his thoughts kept turning sexual. Having David as a lover for ten years could do that to a man. He was so glad he hadn’t made the comment out loud (although David would have). Besides, the guy might not have a gun or knife, but he could still knock his block off.
“I’m Dan,” said his new passenger as he turned to swipe the credit card he’d taken from his (tight) jeans at the gas pump.
“Caleb?” Dan asked.
“Callum. That’s an interesting name. Never heard it before. Family name?”
“Yeah. My Grandpa’s. My mom’s dad. It’s Gaelic or Celtic or something.”
Dan raised an eyebrow. “Really? That’s cool. My family’s from Ireland.”
“Oh Danny Boy?”
Dan rolled his eyes again. “And I’ve never heard that before! And I don’t let too many people call me Danny, either. Except Mom.”
“Can’t control your mother, huh?”
“Hell no. And if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother, right?”
“I’ve let an SO call me Danny….”
“‘SO’?” Callum asked.
“Oh,” said Callum, and nine years of living in the gay community made him immediately curious about Dan’s choice of non-gender-specific pronouns. It wasn’t something that most people even thought about, but cruising with David had taught him to be on the lookout for clues. He nodded and tried not to check Dan out again.
It wasn’t easy. The more he looked at the man, the more attractive he became, which in turn made Callum feel guilty. It didn’t matter that David would have gone for the hunk in a San Francisco second. It didn’t matter that he and David were now—finally, technically—in an open relationship, and that he had every right to cruise the stranger (David would have). It was the very fact that he was doing what David always did—turning this stranger into nothing but a sexual possibility. He hated that! He was not going to act like David.
“So where are you headed?” Callum asked, forcing himself to stop mentally undressing the man. It wasn’t just habit; Dan was hot! It went way beyond those blue eyes. His smile was dazzling, his huge dimples enchanting, his teeth white and perfect. His nose was on the large side, but it fit him and only got Callum wondering about other things. And his body! Dan’s body was lean, and the tank top revealed a nice set of pecs with just the perfect amount of chest hair (nicely furred without being apelike). Callum loved a hairy chest. David’s chest was as smooth as glass. Oh, and when Dan pushed his persistently falling bangs from his face, Callum could see the hair in his pits was quite dense. Sweaty. Dan couldn’t have been any more Callum’s type if he’d been made to order.
“And you,” he suddenly heard Dan say.
“Huh?” Callum asked again, and he felt his face flush again with embarrassment.
“What about you?” Dan asked. “I told you where I’m going.”
“You did?” Now even Callum’s ears were turning red.
“I said I was heading to St. Louis. An old… friend said I could come visit for a while. Offered me a short-term construction job. I was so tired of Reno.”
The gas pump clicked off, and Dan turned and squeezed another dollar into the tank. “All full,” he said, pulling the nozzle from the tank and hanging it back up. “You want a Coke or something before we leave?”
“Oh! Jeez,” Callum said, his bladder reminding him of one of the main reasons he’d stopped in the first place. Gasoline had been the second reason. “I gotta piss like a racehorse!” He willed his face to not turn any redder. God, he hoped he wasn’t being too obvious. “I could’a been doin’ that already.”
“Well, we had to get acquainted,” Dan replied. “I wouldn’t walk off and leave my car with a stranger. You know, a piss sounds good. I think I’ll join you before we hit the road. Out here it’s a long ways between johns.”
Oh great, thought Callum. Me piss shy. I won’t be able to go with him standing next to me.
But Callum found that wasn’t true. Dan was so casual, keeping his eyes on the red and white tiles in front of him and never glancing his way, that Callum found he had no trouble at all. He wasn’t as gallant as Dan, though. He did take a peek or two out of the corner of his eye. He liked what he saw. Nice, and he wasn’t circumcised, either. Dan really was perfect.
Callum wound up springing for the soda. He bought a case as a matter of fact, along with some ice, and they put it in his banged-up red cooler that sat in the back seat. It seemed they were both Diet Coke fans, and it was on sale, even way out here.
They’d only been in the car a moment or so when Dan twisted his head and sniffed his pits. He rolled his eyes once again (apparently an affectation) and said, “Sorry about the smell. I’ve been sitting there for a while. Old ladies and young girls don’t pick up strange men.”
“No problem,” said Callum. “Are you a strange man?” Callum added before he could stop himself.
“Oh, I don’t know. No stranger than the next.”
“Well, like I said, I don’t mind the smell,” said Callum. He felt his face grow hot again. He didn’t mind the smell one bit. Dan wasn’t stale, just clean and natural. One more thing David had done to him—taught him to love man-smells. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, Callum thought, cursing his absent lover. Jeez, you showed me the world, my love, the wonders and the heights and depths. Then all we ever do is wallow in the sewer.
“Huh?” said Callum with a jerk.
“You got a really funny look on your face.”
“Sorry, just thinking about somebody….”
“With that look? I take it this somebody’s an ex?”
Callum jumped again. “Ex? No, not an ex. I’m just taking… some time off.”
“Ah,” said Dan, stretching out and making himself comfortable, raising his arms and putting his hands behind his neck, exposing those decidedly sexy pits. A few drops of sweat glistened like diamonds in the desert light that came in through the windshield. “I understand what you’re saying. By the way, you never answered my question. Where are you going?”
Callum gulped. “To see my parents. It’s my mom’s birthday.”
“Where do you live?”
“SFO,” Callum answered. “San Francisco.”
“The City! I love San Francisco! Land of fruits and nuts.”
Callum chuckled. “Like I haven’t heard that before!”
There was a pause in their conversation. Then Dan asked, “So which are you?”
“Huh?” asked Callum.
“A fruit or a nut?”
Callum looked at him, surprised. “Ah, ummm….” Oh, what the hell. “I guess I’m both,” he said with a shrug.
Dan let out a bark of laughter. “Oh, that’s good! Guess that works for me too.”
It took Callum a moment to register what Dan had said. “Oh! Really? I thought you said you were straight.”
“I never said that,” Dan said with a smirk.
“But you got pissed off ’cause the trucker wanted to have sex with you.”
“I got pissed off that I had to pay for the ride with mah ass. It wasn’t because he wanted to have sex with me.”
“Oh!” Callum said for the third or fourth time. Damn. He was starting to sound like an echo.
“The guy was totally gross. Huge, greasy, and believe me, he didn’t smell sexy!”
Once again Callum blushed, for some reason embarrassed that Dan had realized one of his little turn-ons.
Dan smiled broadly. “I think it’s pretty damned cute that you can blush at your age. You’re in your, what, late twenties, early thirties?”
“Yeah,” Callum said, not telling the man he was thirty-three and trying to guess Dan’s point.
“I’m thirty-seven myself. You lived in San Fran very long?”
“’Bout nine years.”
Dan whistled. “And you can still blush? After what you must’ve seen? I like that. You are okay, Callum, buddy. This is going to be the best ride I’ve had in a long time. Thanks for the lift.”
“No problem,” Callum said. Then just like that he was feeling really good. He looked over at Dan, who was grinning, and he felt his own smile growing. He nodded. “You’re welcome, Danny. I mean Dan.”
Dan winked. “Go ahead and call me Danny. I think you qualify. I let my mom, SOs, and cute guys that rescue me in the desert call me Danny.”
Callum felt his mood lift even more. He’d been so mad when David refused to come with him. He hadn’t wanted to make such a long drive by himself, and he really owed his mom a trip. But David had no intention of going. He said he didn’t want to take the time off, but Callum knew better. He knew David wanted the opportunity to trick without him. Get his jollies at The Glory Whole, his favorite sex club, nearly every night probably.
What was really silly was that David hadn’t wanted him to take the car, even though they hardly used it, not in the City. They used public transportation nearly everywhere they went. It was foolish to do anything else in San Francisco, and David shouldn’t need it over the next week. He, on the other hand, certainly needed the car to go halfway across the States, especially across this desert. And it was his car. The one his mother gave him.
Yet, what a nice turn of events this had turned out to be. The drive would have been pretty boring; had been so far.
Callum realized he was glad that David wasn’t here. David would have ruined this. He’d surely have pounced on Danny by now. Yeah, fuck you, David. Go right ahead and do whatever you’re going to do.
“Mind if I turn on the radio?” Dan asked.
Callum shook his head. “Please do.”
“Hope you don’t mind, but I’ll probably be singing along.”
“I don’t mind,” Callum said with a grin.
Yeah, David. You have a ball without me. And while you’re at it, go to hell.