GERALD RAMIREZ opened the door and stepped inside but stopped when he spotted the man who, in the last six months, had become an increasing aggravation. Oblivious to him, the man whistled as he moved from the fridge to the counter and put down the makings that looked to be for a sandwich. He then reached up to the cabinet above his head, opened it, and took out a plate. After shutting the cabinet, he did a slide move to the dish drainer and retrieved a knife, then retraced the movement back to where he had been before. Dancing in place and still whistling, the man started to make his sandwich. Gerald clenched his fist at the familiarity with which he moved around the kitchen. He acted as if he owned the place.
“Hey, Gerald. Do you want a sandwich?” Wilbur “Bur” Jenkins asked, without looking at him or pausing his dancing movements.
It didn’t even surprise Gerald that Bur knew he was there. Bur seemed to have an innate way of knowing where he was. It was just another thing about Bur that pissed him off. Bur turned his head. Pale green eyes studied him impassively, then Bur partially lowered his lids over his eyes. Gerald scowled. He recognized the same gesture from Bur’s brother, Bernard Jenkins. On Bernie, it looked innocent and endearing. However, on Bur, it was all challenge. Gerald couldn’t fathom how two men could look so much alike, but be so vastly different. Hell, actually three men. Although the features, eyes, and hair color of the Jenkins triplets were identical, there was no mistaking which man you were talking with. Their personalities and the way they dressed were very different. Bernie was more casual, which matched his clean-cut persona and openness. Dillard, who preferred being called Del, was more stylishly casual and portrayed a more brusque and standoffish attitude.
Gerald studied Bur. Everything about Bur showed he was trouble, and he embraced it wholeheartedly—from the ring in the left side of his thin nose, as well as the other in his right eyebrow, to the stone that looked like a diamond that was above his top lip in the center of his mouth, and the messy waves of shaggy brown hair with red at the tips that fell around Bur’s face. As usual, he was dressed in a baggy T-shirt that hung on his gangly frame. Even though, from where he stood by the door, Gerald couldn’t see his lower half, he knew that Bur was in some sort of sweatpants and barefoot. The bottoms he wore would range in length and color, and while some were plain, there were others that would have on one leg the same emblem design. Gerald didn’t recognize it. The shirts were always baggy but could be sleeveless, short-sleeved, or long-sleeved. The clothing was all Bur usually wore when he was relaxing around the house. When he went out, Bur would change the sweats to jeans and put on shoes. As soon as he returned to the house, he would take off the shoes. Bur preferred to be barefoot. In the months he’d been forced to be around him, Gerald had observed him, looking for ways to oust him out of Harper’s life.
“Are you going to stand there mute in the doorway all day?” Bur returned his attention to making his sandwich.
Gerald stepped forward and closed the door behind him. He walked deeper into the kitchen.
“With how late you left last night, I would think you’d still be home sleeping,” Bur said.
At the reminder of last night, Gerald gritted his teeth. He, Harper, and Bur had rung in the New Year together. At the stroke of midnight, Bur had kissed Harper. They had laughed and turned to him. He’d been so angry, he’d left the room and gone to get another drink. The New Year before had been the first time since Karl Provenza—Harper’s husband and Gerald’s best friend—had died that they faced the New Year without him. Harper had been broken, and Gerald had spent the night holding him as he cried. There had been a lot of tears those first few months. Harper and he had been through many first times without Karl—Harper’s birthday, which was the day after burying Karl; Karl’s birthday; and Thanksgiving and Christmas were but a few. Last year, for the anniversary of Karl’s burial, Harper had asked Gerald and Bur to go with him to the graveside. They had all gone together. That had become the pattern. It seemed as if wherever they went, Bur would be there. For all the firsts Harper and Gerald had together, the seconds were with Bur in attendance. Thanksgiving and Christmas this year weren’t as painful as last year, but Gerald was frustrated that Bur was there, just as with New Year’s.
Last night, between the living room and kitchen, Gerald had decided not to have another alcoholic beverage as he’d planned, since he would be driving. By the time the two men had joined him, he had made coffee and was sitting at the table by the window drinking. He hadn’t participated in the conversation they were having, although Harper had tried more than once to draw him into it. Although he should have left, he’d stayed another three hours, watching them interact before he’d had enough of seeing them so lovey-dovey and left.
In the little bit over six months since Bur’s arrival, he’d created havoc. Moving in with Harper right after meeting him, Bur had somehow burrowed his way into Harper’s life. Their life. Now, instead of Harper and Gerald, as it had been since Provenza died, it was Harper, Gerald, and Bur. They were a happy duo, and he was a surly Gerald.
God, I miss you, Karl. Why did you have to die, you bastard? His eyes burned. Gerald blinked, pushing away the emotions he would not allow to surface. He had to be strong for Harper. It was what a friend would do. Be there to ensure that no one hurt Harper. Step up and take Provenza’s place. Miguel couldn’t do it. He had Robert. It was Gerald’s responsibility to be there. Gerald walked closer to Bur. He leaned against the counter, partway between the dish drainer and where Bur stood. He noted Bur stiffened, then relaxed.
“Stop fucking with Harper.” Gerald tapped his finger on the counter.
“What, is that”—Bur did the same motion to the counter as Gerald had—“supposed to scare me? Make me run and pack my stuff? Ohhh, let me run and go do it,” Bur mocked.
“Stop being a smartass and listen. Harper is vulnerable, and he doesn’t need you messing with him. You can go and find some other man to get your rocks off with.” Gerald crossed his arms over his chest.
Bur put down the knife and turned to face him, mirroring his posture. “Let me say this again so you can get it through your thick skull. I’m. Not. Going. Anywhere.” He enunciated it slowly.
Gerald narrowed his eyes. “I care about Harper, and I’m asking you to let him go. I don’t know what this hold you have on him is, but just leave.”
Bur studied him, then sighed. “You are so oblivious. I care about Harper too. I—”
“You don’t know him. Hell, you only met him six months ago. I kno—”
Bur cut him off, his tone low and furious. “I do know him. I might only have met him six months ago, but I know him. I’ve been where he was. Pain so bad it would eat you alive. Don’t you fucking dare presume to tell me what I know.”
Gerald was surprised at his vehemence. In the time he’d been around Bur, he’d only seen the easygoing, without a care in the world attitude. His mind started to race as he realized that there might be more to Bur than he thought.
“You sound just like Bernie did when he told me to back off and let Harper be,” Gerald said.
“I heard about that. And Bernie was right. At least you partially listened,” Bur replied.
“I more than partially listened. I’ve been giving Harper space.” Gerald frowned.
“Really. I’ve noticed that. All that space you’ve been giving him while you’re here so often, calling and so on.” The sarcasm was plain in his voice.
“You really are a mouthy shit.”
“Now, now, Gerald. No reason to compliment me so nicely.” Bur smiled.
“Only to you would that be a compliment.” Gerald snorted.
“And you too. Just as I have gotten to know Harper, I’ve seen a lot about you. You’re an okay bloke, Gerald. A little controlling, but okay,” Bur said.
Gerald stifled a smile at the word “bloke.” He’d become so accustomed to hearing Bur speak with a British accent, he didn’t even register it. Except for those times Bur used British terms. He sobered, going back to what he wanted Bur to do.
“You claim you care about Harper. So how can you take advantage of him, living here sponging off him?”
“I don’t sponge off him,” Bur stated.
“Fine. I don’t know what you contribute to the household, but it can’t be much. You don’t even have a job. You’re an out of work singer. I bet you don’t have any money.”
“You would lose that bet.” Bur laughed.
Gerald didn’t understand what was funny. He shook his head. Bur wasn’t listening.
“What do you give Harper that I can’t?” he asked, frustrated.
Bur stared at him. “A body.”
“Sex. See that’s what I’m talking about. You need to find someone else to bump nasties with.”
“What decade are you from? First ‘get your rocks off’ and now ‘bump nasties’. What are you going to say next? Wait, I know. Horizontal mambo.” Bur snickered, then sobered. “Why don’t you come to the present and call it as it is? Fucking. Come on, say it with me: fucking.” He said it slowly.
“I really don’t appreciate you talking to me like I’m an idiot.”
“Maybe if you’d stop acting like one, I could stop. That’s a long maybe. I’m waiting for you to ask me a question outright. You’ve implied and skirted around actually asking Harper or me what we’re doing together. Ask me who I want to fuck, Gerald.” Bur’s gaze was intent.
An uneasy feeling filled Gerald. He debated a moment if he should walk away. He already knew he wouldn’t. He wasn’t the type of man to avoid something because it made him uncomfortable.
“Who do you want to fuck, Bur?” Gerald said it challengingly.
Bur straightened from where he leaned on the counter. He closed the distance between them. Gerald’s gaze narrowed as he noted the predatory way Bur was walking. There was arrogance in every motion, and the intent look on his face was one Gerald knew well. He waited, sure he was mistaken. Bur stopped beside him and placed his hand on the counter next to his.
“You, Gerald Ramirez, are the one I want to bend over and fuck.”
“Are you really trying to pick me up like I’m some woman you want to screw for the night?” Gerald asked in disbelief.
“Since I’ve never picked up a woman before, I wouldn’t know. Wouldn’t being so blunt with a lady get you slapped?”
“It goes according to the woman.” Gerald shrugged, then frowned. “Wait a minute. You’re teasing me.” Gerald stepped closer to him. “You really don’t know me, then. I’ve been around enough gay men to not be squeamish when one invades my space. Hell, I don’t even have the concept of personal space anymore. So you’ve gotta do better than this to freak me out.”
Gerald crowded him until they were pressed against each other. Bur closed his lids. Gerald blinked as Bur’s cock twitched, then hardened between them. A weird sensation he didn’t even want to acknowledge, much less explore, filled Gerald. He pushed it away and treated Bur as he would any of his other friends who liked to push the personal boundaries.
He chuckled. “I have that effect on both genders. Don—” He sobered and stopped speaking as Bur lifted his lids.
There was no other word but hunger to describe the look in Bur’s heavy-lidded pale green gaze. Gerald gulped, then went to step back. Bur gripped his hip, stopping him.
“I’m not teasing. I’m approaching you as a man, Gerald. The way a man would approach another he wants really badly.” Bur’s voice was deep.
“I’m not gay.” Gerald shook his head.
“I know.” Bur’s smile seemed regretful, and then he went somber. “And you would do well to remember that when you try to throw yourself on the altar of martyrdom.”
“What? I don’t know what you mean,” Gerald said.
“I’ve seen you look at Harper with that contemplative expression on your face. It took me a while to figure out what it was about, but I did. Karl would not want you to sacrifice your happiness to take his place by Harper’s side. He’d want you and Harper to be friends. Want you to find someone. For Harper to also find someone else to live the rest of his life with. Man up, Gerald, and live again.”
Bur’s words resonated in him. Gerald stepped back. Bur slid his fingers along Gerald’s hip before he let Gerald go.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Gerald said.
“I do. And I hope you realize it before you do something stupid that will ruin your friendship with Harper.”
“You little shit. You’re trying to separate Harper and me. It won’t work. And coming on to me is below the belt.” Gerald pushed past him.
Bur gripped his forearm, and Gerald shrugged to break his hold. When Bur didn’t release him, he realized Bur was stronger than he looked. Gerald turned his head to face him. Bur shifted close to Gerald until their bodies were pressed against each other again.
“This isn’t some master plan. I’m attracted to you, you dumb ass.”
“I’m straight. I love women. Women.” He enunciated the word slowly.
Bur’s lips twitched, but he didn’t smile. “Did that make you feel good?”
“Yeah. It’s good not being the idiot,” Gerald retorted.
“Yes. It’s idiocy that I find you an interesting man.”
“Interesting? Now I know you’re delusional. I’m just plain old Gerald. I’m just me.”
“I know. And that’s what makes me want you even more.”
“Huh?” Gerald was confused.
“You have no idea what people see when they see you, talk about you.”
“What lies have people been telling? I didn’t take pictures of Bernie and Tomas, I swear,” Gerald joked.
“You crack jokes or change the subject when you get uncomfortable with praise or talking about things.”
“You’re an irritating prick,” Gerald said cheerfully.
“And you’re an arrogant, controlling asshole. We would be a good pair. Are you sure you’re straight?” Bur wiggled his eyebrows.
“Yes,” Gerald said.
“For a straight man, you sure don’t seem to have a problem with a horny gay man pressing groin to groin with you.” Bur glanced down.
Gerald mirrored him. With the baggy shirt in the way, he couldn’t see the erection that seemed substantial. Gerald raised his head and met Bur’s gaze. Bur’s eyes were twinkling devilishly.
“Feels like you’re really packing a big stick,” Gerald leered.
Bur laughed, then shook his head. “Another thing I find interesting. The lewd humor.”
Gerald got serious. “Look, Bur. Even if I were interested in men instead of women, I wouldn’t be in it for sex. I don’t want just that anymore.”
“Since when? I’ve heard all about your prowess with the ladies. It’s legendary.”
“Heard. That’s the past. I haven’t been—” Gerald paused. “—as active since Karl died. I’ve changed.” He shrugged. “Although anything you heard is even more true than anyone said. They like to downplay my prowess. Legendary comes close.” He grinned proudly.
Bur’s scrutiny was intense, and then he replied. “That’s exactly what I mean. Karl died, but you and Harper didn’t. You should be living. Hell, fucking some hot chick. Rocking her world with your legendary sexual acrobatics.”
“Now who’s in a different decade? I don’t do acrobatics. Swinging from the chandelier is dangerous. You can break something when you fall off.” Gerald widened his eyes.
Bur laughed. “Crazy bloke.”
“You said bloke again.” Gerald snickered.
“So?” Bur frowned.
“We say guy. Bloke is British.”
“Whatever. Seriously, you need to live more.”
“I live enough. I didn’t say I haven’t been with anyone, just that I’m looking for more than a warm body. Now, if you’re done feeling me up, I’ll be on my way to see Harper,” Gerald said, looking pointedly at where Bur held onto his arm and then at where they were pressed together.
“I’m thinking about it. Give me a sec.” Bur whistled, not moving.
Gerald stifled a chuckle. “Crazy bastard.”
Bur released him.
Gerald moved away and headed toward the archway leading out of the kitchen. He stopped and asked without turning around, “What will make you move out of Harper’s house?”
“When he asks me to.”
Gerald sighed. He was going to have to convince Harper to tell Bur to go. He continued to the doorway.
“Gerald!” Bur called.
Gerald stopped. When Bur didn’t speak again, he looked at him. Bur stood, hands braced on the island that was in the center of the room. Bur lowered his gaze, looking down Gerald’s body. Gerald waited until Bur met his gaze.
“Had a good look?”
Bur shrugged. “Not really. But since that’s all I’m going to get, it will have to do.” Bur paused, then spoke again. “If you weren’t straight, I might have been interested in more than sex. I’ll have to think about finding someone to get my rocks off with.” Bur chuckled, then turned away, returning to his sandwich.
Gerald frowned at his back. He didn’t like hearing Bur talk about going to someone else.
You shouldn’t care. He turned and continued on his way.
“Harper is in the family room!” Bur called out from the kitchen.
Gerald passed the living room and turned into a hall. He came to the open door of Harper’s home office and paused, looking back and forth between the open doorway and the closed one on the other wall. It used to be Karl and Harper’s man cave. As far as Gerald knew, except for the time they cleaned Karl’s personal effects out of the room right after the funeral, Harper hadn’t stepped foot in it. He thought of what Bur had said. Although he was butting in, Bur was right. Both he and Harper had stopped living. Harper had been slowly coming out of his shell, but he wasn’t the same Harper. Gerald didn’t expect him to be the same, but he missed the man he knew Harper was, and his fun-loving, wicked sense of humor and zest for life. Gerald strode on down the hall. It exited into the spacious family room that Harper had taken to using since Karl’s passing. Gerald didn’t see him as he entered. He walked instinctively toward the little corner space. Gerald slowed as he saw Harper. He was looking out the window that overlooked the gardens. Another place Harper didn’t take time to enjoy anymore. Their friends came by and maintained the gardens for Harper.
“Harper,” Gerald said.
Harper looked up at him and smiled. “Hey, Ramirez. Take a load off.”
Gerald was grateful for the smile. He sat on the couch beside Harper. For a few months, it had been iffy whether Harper would shut him out of his life. Suddenly, it hit Gerald, everything that their friends, and most recently Bur, had been telling him. He’d started letting Harper be. But he didn’t know if he could just walk away and not take Karl’s place. Gerald leaned forward. Opening his legs, he placed his elbows on his knees and put them under his chin. He didn’t know what to do.
“I know that pose. What has you thinking so hard?” Harper rubbed a hand along Gerald’s back.
Gerald looked over at Harper. “I feel like I’m failing you. I haven’t been there for you as I should.”
“What? You haven’t failed me, Gerald. You’re my friend. And you’ve been there for me. All of you have. More than I have been for you. All of you.” Harper looked startled at what he said.
Gerald sat up and turned to him. “Then why have you been leaning on Bur so much instead of me?”
“For Christ sake, Ramirez. I’ve told you a hundred times, it’s not sexual.” Harper leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Don’t cross your arms like that. Don’t shut me out. I’m not saying it’s sex.”
Harper glanced down at his crossed arms and grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know I was doing that.”
“You’ve been doing it a lot since Karl. Shutting everyone but Bur out.”
“I know I have. I’ve gotten better, and it’s because of Bur. And it’s not sex.”
“I already said I know it’s not.”
“Sorry. The denial was reflex. For the last few months, you’ve implied things and made snide comments about it without coming right out and saying it.” Harper sighed.
“Well, I finally asked out right who he wants.”
“You did? What did he say?” Harper sounded curious.
Gerald was not about to admit what happened in the kitchen. He might have acted cool with Bur, but he was unsettled.
“That you all are just friends,” Gerald said.
Harper’s expression changed to shame. “That’s what we are now. But at first, I was using him.”
Gerald waited to see what else he would say. Harper didn’t speak. Gerald sighed, then put his hand out. Harper looked at it, then lifted his hand. It was shaking. Gerald gripped it in his own and pulled him closer. He rested his forehead against Harper’s.
Harper’s laugh was shaky. “You remembered my talk seriously pose.”
“Just like you know my thinking one. Karl was my best friend, but so are you. Now stop stalling and talk.”
“Do you know why I asked Bur to come move in with me?”
“You asked him?” Gerald was surprised. He’d always assumed it was Bur who convinced Harper to let him move in.
“Yes, I did. I know all of you thought he asked me, even when I told you all that wasn’t how it was. I should have explained, but at that time, I couldn’t. Since then, our friends just accepted it. All except you. You’re such a protector, Gerald. But even you couldn’t protect me from what I was going through. Although you, Simon, and Malik are my best friends, it was Bur who I needed these last six months,” Harper said.
“Tell me why,” Gerald demanded.
“I felt as if I was drowning. Drowning in everyone’s expectations. You all kept looking at me as if you expected me to go crazy at any moment. You looked and saw Harper minus Karl; none of you looked and really saw me. I was in pain, trying to live again, but none of you would let me. Even from the funeral, when you all did that tribute that Karl asked you to. None of you let me mourn in my way, in my time. You all forced it on me.” Harper paused then said, “Bur didn’t have any of that.”
“But why Bur? He was a stranger.”
“That’s why. Sometimes, it’s easier to confide your darkest moments to a stranger. They don’t have any expectations of you.”
“You could have gotten a therapist for that.”
“I did go to therapy.”
Gerald was shocked. He hadn’t known.
“I didn’t tell you or anyone. I needed someone to talk to, so I did. And it helped. I was doing better, at least until Paget Weekend approached. You know, Karl usually took some time off before it to travel with me and help me implement my plans for that time.”
Gerald nodded. Paget Weekend was an event that happened on the fourth weekend during the months of April through September. Paget Street was blocked to traffic and became a sort of street fair. It was a local event where businesses and organizations from all around Mapson set up booths in the center of the street. The businesses that were on Paget got a booth every weekend of the fair. Harper’s bookstore was on Paget, so he automatically got a booth in front of his business. Gerald remembered that Karl would take a two-week vacation, usually in March. He and Harper would go on some trip somewhere and come back relaxed and excited for the upcoming Paget Weekend. Gerald recalled many times he’d had to listen to Harper and Karl planning whatever they came up with for the event.
“Well, it hit me hard in March that he wasn’t here,” Harper said. “And I just wanted to be left alone for a bit. But none of you would listen. Especially you. You kept pushing and pushing. That reminded me so much of Karl. I really wanted to break your nose then, but I just went along.”
“That’s around the same time your brother decided to move in with that slut he was involved with.”
“Yes, and I went along with it, just like I went along with you.”
“I know it was frustrating.”
“But then a few months later, I met Bur for the first time. When Bernie left the room, and after Bur’s words to me once we were alone, I knew I needed him to move in with me.”
“What did he say?”
“‘So you’re the bloke making Bernie worry. Get the stick out of your ass, and stop wallowing in your pain. Instead, take this and punch the fucker out until he’s bloody and begging for mercy.’ Then Bur showed me his fist.” Harper laughed.
“Cheeky shit,” Gerald said.
“If you were in pain like I was, you would have said the same thing. Hell, probably much more colorfully,” Harper replied.
“I asked Bur to move in with me. He didn’t even hesitate as he said yes. Bur came home with me, and it was as if a switch had flipped and I was energized. Kicked my lousy family out and told you off. It felt so good too.”
“I bet it did.”
“Bur came home with me, a stranger, and he was there when I raged, cried, and talked about Karl until I was hoarse. Then repeated it over and over. He held me on those nights I needed it. Not sexually, just a body to be there. He even got me back into using the punching bag in the gym. Taught me kickboxing. Bur even ordered a piece to hang on the bag for when I needed it.”
“He’s the one who gave you that thing with a butt with the words ‘Pain’s Ass’ stretched across it?”
“Yeah. It has been very therapeutic punching it.” Harper chuckled.
“I bet. If I was to get one of those things, I know what I would want on it.” Gerald smiled, cracking his knuckles.
“No image of Bur to punch out.”
Gerald was surprised he had even thought that. “I wouldn’t hit him. He might be a pain in the ass, but I wouldn’t do that.”
“Then who were you imagining hitting.”
“Not who. What. That damn alarm clock.”
“No image of that either. Your mother gave it to you. So no killing the alarm clock.”
“Just figuratively. An image to punch out would be really good. Seeing as the thing won’t die in real life. I’ve tried. The damn thing just won’t die. I don’t know where she got it. That sucker is strong,” Gerald said.
Harper laughed even louder. Gerald smiled, hearing the joyous sound. Bur had created a change in Harper. Gerald thought of what Bur said. He was turning out to be surprisingly more complicated than Gerald had thought.
BUR turned his head and watched Gerald’s back as he walked out of the kitchen. He knew most everyone called him Ramirez, but from the time he’d met him, Bur called him Gerald. It was baffling how the big, surly man had gotten under his skin. At their first meeting, Gerald had had a fierce frown on his craggy face, and his black eyes—which Bur had come to realize later were actually really dark brown—had been furious. His light brown, slightly curly hair had been in disarray. While observing him when he confronted Harper, Bur had seen why. Gerald tended to run his fingers through his hair often. When he was agitated, he gripped the hair, making it stand on end. It was one of many things he’d noticed about Gerald Ramirez.
It seemed as if he knew many of the man’s mannerisms as well as he knew his own. At first, Bur had found himself entertained in pissing off the easily excitable Gerald. Well, he was actually only that way around Harper. From what Bur had ascertained from the friends they had, it was a recent thing, since almost a year and half ago when Harper’s partner Karl died. Hearing about Karl from Harper and the others, Bur had gotten really good insight into the dynamics of the close friendship they shared. It reminded him so much of his own friends he had back in England—his bandmates. They were not blood but were as close as if they were. Just like these people he had gotten to know, they would do anything for each other. Guilt filled Bur as he realized he hadn’t actually spoken to any of them in six months. He’d e-mailed them and they him, but no actual voice-to-voice conversation. He made a mental note to call them.
Bur finished spreading the Miracle Whip on his bread. He couldn’t stand regular mayo. He put the things away in the fridge and grabbed a soda. He put the bread in the breadbox, chips on the top, then the knife in the sink. Bur lifted his plate and drink and took them to the table by the window. He sat and stared out the window. From where he sat, he could see part of the garage, which housed his motorcycle as well as Harper’s. He used his on a regular basis, but Harper had mentioned he had never ridden his. He also told Bur that Gerald had a bike, too, which he had only seen him ride once at Karl’s funeral. Harper didn’t know if Gerald had ridden the bike again. Bur was curious if he had. He admitted to himself that Gerald had him fascinated. He projected so much aggressive bluster, yet you could see that he cared deeply about those who he thought of as his. Bur had seen it with Harper and his other friends. With Bur, all Gerald had was the aggressive bluster.
Bur picked up his sandwich and smiled. He kind of liked that about Gerald. He knew it was useless and stupid to have let Gerald get past his usual reticence around men. It had been a long time since he had been attracted to anyone, much less inclined to act on that attraction. He hadn’t planned to this time either, but Gerald’s challenging expression had irked him into revealing what he hadn’t ever planned on.
“Oh well. Too late. Hopefully, he’ll forget my stupidity,” Bur said.
“Did you say something, Bur?” Harper’s voice made him jump a little.
“Whoa. We didn’t mean to scare you,” Gerald said touching him on the back.
Bur stiffened, jerking away. He turned his head and noted Gerald lower his hand, and Gerald’s eyes narrowed. Bur cursed his instinctive reaction to when someone came near his back. He looked at Harper, who hadn’t even attempted to touch him there. Although they had never discussed it, Harper already knew Bur didn’t like his back touched.
“I’m not scared, Gerald. Are you?” Bur let the arrogance he had been known for in the height of his career seep into his voice.
“I’m not easily shaken. Maybe you are,” Gerald retorted.
Bur cursed himself for even referring to what happened. He turned his head and went back to eating his meal without answering him.
“Mouthy brat,” Gerald growled.
“Terms of endearments so soon. Be careful, Gerald. You might give me the wrong idea.” Bur returned his attention to him and smiled slowly.
“Thanks for being there for Harper,” Gerald said with a scowl, then focused on Harper. “I’ll call you later.”
Gerald walked to the door leading outside. He glared at Bur before opening the door and leaving. Bur chuckled.
“You really get too much pleasure out of messing with Ramirez.”
I’d like to mess with him, all right. Out loud, he said, “Yeah, it’s like that saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. In my case, piss off Gerald once a day and be happy as shit.”
Harper laughed. He sat in the chair next to his. Harper swiped a corn chip.
“You haven’t eaten yet. I’ll make you a sandwich.” Bur stood.
“Shut up. None of that ‘I’m not hungry’ crap. You’re eating.” Bur went and made him a sandwich.
Harper didn’t say another word. When Bur was finished, he brought the food and a bottle of iced tea to the table. Harper didn’t like soda, and neither did Gerald. Bur frowned as his thoughts turned to Gerald again. It had become that way for the last few months. He placed the items before Harper and sat again in his chair.
“But I was going to say I would get it, before you got all prissy on me,” Harper said.
“What is with you all and making fun of my supposed accent? You all have the accent.” Bur laughed.
Harper joined him. It was a familiar tease. They ate in silence, and then Bur remembered what Gerald had said.
“Why did Gerald thank me for being here for you?” He took a drink from his soda.
“I told him about the day I asked you to move in with me,” Harper said.
“You did?” Bur lowered the can to the table.
“Yes. I should have a long time ago. And I should have also apologized for using you. You didn’t even know me, and I used you as—”
“Stop right there. If this is some ‘woe is me, I feel guilty for using you’ shit, I don’t want to hear it,” Bur stated.
“No buts. Everyone needs someone sometime or another. I happened to be there when you were in need. It happened, and now we move on.”
“You do that every time I try to thank you.”
“You don’t thank friends. Being there for the nasty and the good is what best buds are for.”
“You have become another of my best friends. Now I have four of you.” Harper laughed.
“Now you need one more to be even with me. Adding you to the four of my bandmates, I have five. That’s a good number. Five people to call you on it when you’re being an ass.” Bur winked.
“As you do so well. My friend, you are acting like an ass about Ramirez. Yes, he’s a growly bear, but a good man. Give him a chance, get to know him, and you might find you like him.”
That isn’t the problem. I happen to like him a little too much. Bur ate a chip and didn’t respond.
“What am I going to do with you and Ramirez?”
“Why do you all call him Ramirez?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Among the people who know him, we just do. Only his mother and women he’s dated call him by his given name. Or a stranger who doesn’t know him. I do tend to call him Gerald when I’m mad at him.” Harper raised his bottle, then paused. “And, well, you call him Gerald. Come to think of it, you’ve called him that since you all met. You know him well enough to call him Ramirez. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”
“I would,” Bur said.
Harper looked startled, then his gaze went intent. Bur recognized the expression. He stood and took his plate to the sink.
“I’m going to get my guitar and meet you in the family room,” he said.
“Okay,” Harper replied, confusion plain in his voice.
Bur went to leave.
“Bur?” Harper’s voice stopped him.
Bur glanced toward him.
Harper stared at him, then said, “You haven’t brought anyone here since you moved in. If you want to, you are more than welcome to have them here.”
“Fuck them, you mean. Why is it you all seem to have a problem saying the words?”
“Fine. But I won’t say that. Sex. Have sex with someone here if you want to. Think of this as your home too. Invite someone over if you want to,” Harper said.
“If I find someone who I want to, I’ll keep it in mind. Although having them here, in front of you, is kind of not my thing anymore. My exhibitionist days are way in the past.” Bur winked.
Harper choked on his drink. Bur left laughing. In the hall, he sobered. The only man he was interested in having wasn’t even interested in men. Bur imagined laying Gerald on his bed and exploring him all over.
“Stop torturing yourself. I really need to go out and get laid.” Bur went up the steps.