Bevin Stewart and Scott DeMaris may have been surreptitious lovers in high school, but now they have nothing in common. After graduation, Scott took their band, Black Lam, to the top of the charts. Crippled by an anxiety disorder, Bevin stayed home and opened a café with the royalties he received for penning lyrics.
When Scott barrels back into Bevin’s orderly life, looking for a real friend instead of showbiz phonies, they discover the spark is still flickering. But Bevin is plagued by panic attacks and agoraphobia—he can’t possibly handle the chaos of a relationship with a rock star. Even if he could, Scott is inconsiderate and in the closet. Bevin knows love means making compromises, but can he convince Scott—and himself—that it’s worth it?
BEVIN stared blankly at his neglected Facebook page, his brain barely working after a long day at the cafe. A single “friend” request sat in his inbox. It was dated a few weeks ago, but he hadn’t noticed it until now.
Scott. Scott DeMaris.
Now that brought back memories, and they should have been good ones. Scott, his first fuck; Scott, to be more honest, his first love. But that had been a very long time ago, during high school, and just after. That was more than ten years ago now, and Bevin had moved on. Or at least he had managed to grow up and become a modestly successful “small businessman,” as his father insisted on describing him, despite his ongoing battle with agora-and-several-other-phobias. And his sexual experience was still admittedly a little on the limited side.
Scott had sure as hell moved on, and up.
Scott, who was now “Rebel,” the lead singer of Black Lam, a retro-eighties rock band with a gold record on the wall and two singles in the top forty. That might explain why Scott had misspelled his own last name—Daris—on his Facebook page, presumably to try and deflect the attention of his fans. Or maybe it was just another one of his endless rounds of reinvention. Scott had come a long way since they were small-town boys together in Gulliver, Indiana. Bevin, on the other hand, had only made it as far as the neighboring, and not much bigger, town of Millton.
The photo was definitely that Scott. In fact, Bevin remembered taking the photograph himself, a good ten years ago. It had been his favorite. Is Scott using that picture for a reason? Is it some kind of message? He hadn’t actually seen Scott for, what was it? Eight years? And that had been a fleeting visit. Since then, not even an e-mail.
The picture had been cropped down in the avatar and showed just Scott’s face. He had a long face with a square jaw and large, deep-set eyes. A face made handsome not so much by its unremarkable features, but by its perfect symmetry. And, when Scott was awake, his sheer charisma. At first Bevin had thought it was only his heart that jumped whenever Scott looked at him, but apparently he had that effect on a lot of people. The “X” factor; star power. Whatever.
In that particular photo, Scott was not awake. The whole picture would have showed Scott with his arms and legs flung out and the sheets a tangled mess. Bevin hadn’t been taking a portrait; he’d been collecting evidence that it was hard to get a good night’s sleep when you were sharing a bed with the Scottapus. The man flailed his arms in his sleep, he ground his teeth, he snored. It was like trying to sleep with a giant gibbon with night terrors.
Remembering all those irritating little tics felt like some kind of defensive response. Like Bevin’s psyche was trying to reject the very idea of reconnecting with Scott. It’s not like it had been all bad, but it had been kind of a relief when it was over. Not that life had ever been quite the same since then.
A sense rather like panic curled up inside Bevin as he continued to stare at that tiny square of pixels on the laptop screen. He could accept the request. What harm could possibly come of that? Scott was safely ensconced in the fame he had always yearned for. They could exchange a few nostalgic pleasantries and leave it at that. Or he could just ignore the request. Oh, sorry, I guess I never saw it. I don’t really use my Facebook page that much.
But no. It was long past time he stopped making room for Scott, making concessions for Scott. Whatever Scott wanted, Bevin was not interested. He had only logged on to see if he could use Facebook to promote his café, and that was exactly what he was going to do. Maybe set up a fan page, “friend” his suppliers and corporate catering customers.
When the hell did “friend” become a verb, anyway?
Bevin’s mouse hovered over the “reject” button.
He was interrupted by a tap on the window. The window at the back of his house, which overlooked the small yard. The old bay window was divided into over a dozen small square panes rimmed by messily white-painted sills. Right in the middle of one of them was… Scott. Like an online avatar come to life. Like just thinking about the devil had summoned him.
Scott was standing in the back yard. Why the hell is Scott standing in my back yard?
Of course Bevin had glimpsed the “new” Scott on CD covers and music videos over the years. But without make-up or special lighting, the first thing that was obvious was a decade of aging. He was still a young man, but no longer a youth. His features were stronger and his face was more gaunt, but his eyes were the same as ever.
Oh Jesus, he’s still just as gorgeous… no. Even more so. It was like his looks had been waiting for that sin-worn polishing to go right over the top.
“You’ll have to go ’round to the front door,” Bevin said weakly, still not entirely sure he wasn’t seeing things. But whatever Bevin’s anxieties and phobias, he had never strayed into outright hallucinations.
“What?” came the muffled reply through the glass.
“Go ’round to the front!” Bevin gestured to the front door, easily visible to both of them. His house consisted of little more than an open area leading to a kitchen and bathroom on one side, and a bedroom on the other. You could see right through it from front to back.
Of course, Scott pointed in the direction of the back door instead, the one that led off the kitchen. But most of the kitchen was currently filled with boxes of supplies for the café: plastic cutlery, napkins, toilet paper, and light bulbs. Bevin shook his head, but Scott pointed again, more emphatically. It sure hadn’t taken long to rediscover how irritating the man could be.
“Go to the goddamn front door!” Bevin yelled. He stood up and put his laptop on the coffee table, then strode to the front door, turned the lock, and opened it. From that vantage point, he could see a car parked on his small cul-de-sac. He didn’t know what model it was, but it was low, gleaming, bright yellow, and looked very, very expensive.
Scott didn’t go around the left side of the house, where there was a path, but to the right, where he had to wade through overgrown grass and weeds.
When Scott finally made it to the front door, bits of greenery caught in his boots, Bevin commented, “You always were an awkward bastard.”
“Nice to see you too.” Scott breezed past him and into the house. He had a plastic shopping bag in one hand and wore a cheap (or possibly expensively “distressed”) plaid shirt with bulging pockets over his jeans. “Nice little place you have here,” he added.
“I like it.” Bevin gritted his teeth as Scott’s dirty boots tromped over the off-white carpet. His therapist said he needed to learn to let more things go. If nothing else, this would be good practice.
Actually, he liked his little place rather a lot. His house was a sanctuary, and he rarely invited anyone inside. Bevin remained standing in the doorway as Scott flopped down, not on the sofa, which was a concession to the theoretical possibility of guests, but the armchair that was clearly Bevin’s own, with his computer, paperwork, notepad, and coffee mug set out within easy reach. Scott rummaged in the plastic bag and pulled out a bottle wrapped in brown paper.
“I brought Boone’s Farm,” Scott said.
“Oh God, not that crap. You know we only drank it because it was cheap.” Bevin came over and hurriedly cleared away the loose papers and spiral notepad covered in scrawled poetry.
“You said you liked it.”
Bevin sighed. “Well, of the two of us, I was better at learning to like what I had.”
“Oy. Only you could make ambition sound like a bad thing. Get us some glasses, will you?”
Bevin went over to the kitchen and shoved his poems into the rarely used dishwasher. He had to move a few boxes around to get to the cupboard with the glasses in it. He didn’t have many; he didn’t need many—he very rarely needed two. He grabbed a couple of cut crystal glasses. After all, this must count as some kind of special occasion.
“I’m not saying what’s good or bad.” Bevin walked back out to find Scott had turned on the TV. “I’m just saying that we’re different like that.” He offered Scott a glass.
“Put them on the table.” Scott’s gaze stayed on the television. He had the remote in his hand and had tuned it to an entertainment channel. On the screen, a radiantly white-toothed girl babbled like an excited squirrel.
Scott slopped the liquid into both glasses—with a splash on the tabletop for good measure—and took one glass. Bevin pushed his laptop closed, grabbed the other glass, and sat on the couch. It was cold and creaked when he sat on it, as if surprised at being used. Sitting back, Bevin sipped the wine, which was sickly sweet and numbed his tongue.
For a moment, in his mind, he was back in Scott’s Nana’s basement. There was a futon down there they would lie on and watch TV until the early hours of the morning. They did a few other things down there too. Scott would put a chair next to the door to make sure Nana didn’t walk in on them. The chair wasn’t tall enough to hold the door closed, but Nana wasn’t a fast mover even then. It gave them enough time to get decent on the rare occasions she came down the stairs. Bevin couldn’t help but smile a little at the memory.
“So it’s not that bad, after all,” Scott said.
“The Boone’s Farm.”
“No, it’s terrible, like cough syrup mixed with floor cleaner. Let me see if I have something better.”
Bevin took his glass with him back into the kitchen, moved some more boxes, and rinsed the glass out in the sink.
What the hell is he doing here? What the hell am I supposed to do about it?
Bevin was surprised to find his hands were shaking. His thoughts were caught in a kind of gridlock that felt a little bit like being calm. But his heart was beating in his chest like a prisoner upon the bars of a cage.
To open the refrigerator, Bevin had to slide a whole stack of boxes out of the way. He pulled out a passable Australian merlot, mainly because it had a twist top. The drawer with the bottle opener in it was completely inaccessible unless he opened the back door and moved most of the boxes out on the porch.
After refilling his glass, he went back into the living room and raised the bottle in a mute offer.
“No, I’m good.” Scott had already drunk most of his glass of wine.
“You look good,” Bevin added, feeling a telltale blush spread across his face. “What brings you to Millton?”
Their hometown was an even smaller burg twenty miles to the south. It was a town that owed what little it had, and everything it lacked, to the overbearing influence if its wealthiest family. The Bradleys had made their money in soybeans, kept it through smart investments, and used it to lord over their tiny domain. Most people who really wanted to do something with their lives went somewhere else to do it.
“I need a reason to come and see you?”
“You don’t exactly make a habit of it. I guess fame and fortune has been keeping you busy.”
“Wow, dude, you are the king of guilt trips. I’m simultaneously getting the message that I shouldn’t be here, and that I don’t come here enough. And I don’t remember ever getting an invitation.”
“I don’t remember you ever needing one.” Bevin warmed the wine in his hand. Of course red wine shouldn’t be kept in the fridge, but his place was small and didn’t have a lot of storage space.
“Is that an implied invitation?” Scott asked with a sly smile.
“No.” Bevin sat down. “Sorry. Yes, maybe. I guess. It’s good to see you.”
Scott drained his glass. “You don’t sound too sure of that.”
“Oh, come on, Scott. Even you have to admit that you were always something of a mixed blessing to have around. And you know I was never that keen on living in ‘interesting times’.”
“Yes, you made that real clear back when we first left town.” Scott didn’t sound resentful, just strangely downbeat.
“We” was Scott, Sammy, and Tim. Bevin had been the original singer of the band, back when it was called Glass Chisel, and the eighties vibe had been nowhere near as ironic. As the only one in their small clique who couldn’t play an instrument, he got the job of vocalist more by default then design. Nobody could really say he had any talent in that area, but most of the songs alternated between muttering and screaming, so it had never mattered very much.
But when they got the chance to move to Indy for a real, professional gig… well, he hadn’t gone. Scott had taken up the microphone at that point and never looked back. He must have known he was a better singer than me all along.
Bevin sipped his wine. It was still too cold. “I’d only have slowed you down, Rebel. You and I both know that. It was your time to step into the limelight.”
“Please don’t call me that.”
“What? Rebel? Isn’t that what you’re going by these days? There are rumors of a reality show. I can imagine the kind of title they’ll come up with.”
Scott groaned and poured another glass. “As if,” he said, dodging back into shallower conversational territory. “You know, I actually do like this stuff. I’m around people who are serious drinkers. Cheap, sweet wine just isn’t a serious drink, and you can’t down too much of it without making yourself sick, like a kid who’s eaten too much candy. It helps keep me reined in.”
Bevin leaned back on the sofa. Somehow he had assumed Scott had been deliriously happy all these years, thinking up new worlds to conquer. Now he was starting to sound more like a borderline depressed alcoholic.
“So what do you want?” Bevin asked, but it came out a lot more hostile than he intended. “I mean, just to visit and catch up? To see what I did with the royalty checks?”
The group had given him partial credit for writing the songs on their first album, and it had added up to enough to allow him to buy the café five years ago. By the time that income had dwindled to a trickle, his business allowed him to draw a regular salary that was sufficient to meet needs which, other than his therapist’s bills, were rather modest.
“I just came to see Nana, and thought you might be up for a chat. Maybe watch a DVD before I head back.”
“Don’t you have groupies for this sort of thing?” Bevin joked.
“Groupies suck,” Scott snapped.
“I bet they do.”
Scott, who normally found the lighter side of every damn thing, didn’t seem to find that amusing. He got up and dropped down on the other end of the sofa. There was about a foot of space between them. Scott searched through the plastic bag, which was crumpled like it had been reused a few times. Reaching in, he drew out a handful of DVDs still in their shrink wrap.
“I have our old favorite, Near Dark, as well as Iron Man, and whatever the hell this is.”
He tossed them on the sofa cushion between them. “This” turned out to be a Merchant Ivory costume drama.
“Not really your speed, is it?” Bevin said.
“Well, you like that sort of thing.”
Interesting that Scott had remembered. “So what’s the one still in the bag?”
“The sort of thing I like.”
Scott just smiled.
“Well, while we’re taking a trip down memory lane, let’s go with Near Dark.” Bevin peeled off the plastic, opened the case, and slid the DVD into his player. As he pulled the curtain so they could see the TV more clearly, he looked down at the small fish tank that sat on top of the low bookshelf by the window. His betta fish flared its fins, not happy with the change in his routine.
I can relate, Pentaphres. But I doubt he’ll be here long.
They must have watched this movie a dozen times when they were teens. Rutger Hauer, vampires, oil derricks, and terrible music—what more could you want?
“How about I order pizza?” Bevin offered.
And somehow it started to feel like it always had. No tension, no agendas. Just two guys who liked being around each other. Two friends. But more than that?
Somehow that didn’t seem like a good idea.
ONE movie and one half-pepperoni, half-veggie pizza later, Scott was dozing off. He had grabbed a throw pillow and lay on his side, knees pulled up. It was the only way to squeeze his tall frame into the space available on the sofa. Only a thin cushion separated Scott’s head from Bevin’s thigh. But Scott didn’t seem to be trying something. His eyes were sometimes open, more often closed, and it wasn’t even nine o’clock.
“You know, if you need to turn in, that’s okay. You can have the sofa,” Bevin offered.
“I’m listening to the movie.”
“It’s not like we don’t know what happens.”
“It’s just… I’d rather….”
The silence stretched out. The movie continued along its familiar path. The heat of Scott’s body filtered through the cushion.
“If you left me alone here,” Scott continued, “I wouldn’t be able to sleep. The insomnia’s been terrible, and everyone seems to have a pill for that, a drug, another drink, or two, or three. But I know myself. I know that if I start going down that path I won’t be able stop. I never had any brakes, I never had an anchor. Not since you left me.” Scott’s eyes were closed the entire time he spoke.
“You were the one who left,” Bevin said reflexively.
But even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t quite true. Bevin hadn’t shared Scott’s dream of music stardom, and never, in all the years they’d played in hole-in-the-wall dives and at high school dances, had he ever voiced his reservations. Even when gigs playing for a half-dozen inebriated locals had him puking his guts up before he went on. Even though he knew he had already been at his limit when it came to performing in front of a crowd.
“I mean, I didn’t exactly mean to leave you,” Bevin added. “I just couldn’t keep up. I was always terrified when I got on stage. I never felt like I deserved the applause.” I never felt I deserved the blond-haired bass guitarist with the striking gray eyes. “It just seemed natural that you would go onward and upward, but I couldn’t.”
“You never really thought we would make it big,” Scott mumbled.
“Maybe not,” Bevin admitted. Not me, anyway. Not if I was part of it.
“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” Scott turned onto his back, his head moving farther onto Bevin’s lap.
Bevin looked down into those deep, silvery eyes. Somehow they seemed darker now. Bevin had a sinking feeling he knew where this was going, and he doubted his ability to resist.
Scott said, “I know I sound like some whiny celebrity who thinks it’s a tragedy to have the wrong number of olives in his martini, but it really isn’t what I expected. To earn, I have to sell, to sell I have to tour, the reps want to shill every piece of merchandise they can, the promoters want you to do every early morning radio show and pissant mall opening…. Oh hell, now I am whining. I’m just having some trouble getting enough sleep, that’s all. Maybe it’s all those hotel rooms. By the time I finally get home, it doesn’t feel familiar any more. It feels like just another rented room. It doesn’t quite feel… safe.”
Up close, Scott’s face was burred with stubble and there were new lines around his mouth and eyes. He did seem… tired.
“So take a break.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“How hard have you tried, not just to disappear on a whim, but to schedule a vacation in advance, to actually make plans for yourself?”
Scott remained silent.
“Hell. I don’t mean….” Bevin backpedalled. “I can’t tell you how to live your life. Who could ever tell you anything?”
Scott didn’t seem to be listening anymore. He just asked, “Can I stay here tonight?”
“Here on the sofa, or here in my bed?”
“I’ll take what I can get.”
It was hard to look into Scott’s eyes. It was always hard. He had an intensely direct gaze, like whoever he was looking at had one hundred percent of his attention for as long as he was looking at them. Even though you knew you would disappear from his mind as soon as he looked away. Object permanence was never Scott’s strong suit.
Bevin glanced away, only to find he was looking at Scott’s long legs scrunched up on the sofa. Even if he had it to himself, it wasn’t large enough to be comfortable.
“I would think,” Bevin said blandly, “that these days you would have a lot more—and better—options.”
“More, maybe. And I guess I’d have to admit to having tried quite a few of them. But not better.”
Scott was clearly not talking about furniture. The movie continued to drone on in the background.
“The bed’s more comfortable. You can keep me company, but that’s all. Okay?”
“Works for me.” Scott smiled like he maybe wasn’t taking the refusal as definitive.
Bevin reached out to the remotes and turned off the DVD player and the TV.
They went into the bedroom together. It was a rather cluttered space, with bookshelves overloaded with cheap paperbacks across two walls. In the middle of the small room, a king-sized bed was half-covered by a crumpled duvet. There was only one pillow. A large pile of laundry lay under the curtained window.
“Maybe I should change the sheets,” Bevin said, suddenly embarrassed.
“‘Don’t go changing to try and please me’,” Scott crooned before adding, “I’m wiped after driving most of the last two days and nights, and besides, you know I’m not fussy.” He shucked off the oversized plaid shirt to reveal a ragged T-shirt beneath. He jumped onto the bed, face first and with arms spread out, and groaned.
“At least take your shoes off,” Bevin complained.
Scott made a muffled sound that didn’t sound like agreement.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you’re high maintenance, Scott?”
Another muffled sound.
Bevin shook his head. There was never much point in arguing with Scott. And maybe, for a one-night visit, it wasn’t worth the effort.
Bevin bent over and pulled off Scott’s boots, finding he wasn’t wearing any socks. Scott crawled up a little farther on the bed and settled down on his side. He was pretending to be asleep with all the veracity of a six-year-old who didn’t want to get up for church.
The duvet was crumpled up under Scott’s gangly legs, but Bevin managed to pull it out. He lofted it in the air and settled it over Scott. Then he went about his usual nighttime routine, making sure the doors and windows were all locked, turning off the lights, except for the nightlight in the living room, which made it easier to navigate between the bedroom and bathroom inconveniently located at opposite ends of the house. Then, a quick shower.
After he got out of the shower, Bevin paused. Normally he went to bed naked, but that would send entirely the wrong message. But he didn’t want to put the boxers he had been wearing at the café all day back on. Standing in the middle of his own bathroom, he felt completely ridiculous, knowing Scott was at the other end of the house waiting for him.
He looked at the bathroom mirror. At least he didn’t have much to be embarrassed about. He was a small guy, not much more than five foot six, and he clearly wasn’t an adolescent any more. But he hadn’t gained much weight or lost much hair, at least not so far—genetics were not on his side when it came to either. On the whole, he thought, he would still qualify as mildly attractive. Certainly inoffensive and maybe even handsome, in a low-key sort of way. Quite a few of the ladies who came into the café took the time to flirt with him…. But no, the whole point was that nothing was going to happen tonight with Scott.
In the end, he crept into the darkened bedroom and tried to slide a drawer open without making any noise. He pulled out a fresh pair of boxers and put them on.
Groping his way to the bed, he found Scott was predictably sprawled in the middle of it. He chose the side with marginally more space and crawled in.
“AAAARGH!” Bevin sat bolt upright, clutching his face.
It took about a second for him to even remember Scott was there, Scott and his damned nightmares.
“What is it?” Scott mumbled.
“You hit me in the goddamn face.”
“Oh, sorry. Déjà-voodoo, eh?”
“It’s not funny!” It felt like someone had caught him on the side of the head with a two-by-four. How could Scott not even know he’d done it?
“I’m sorry. I’ll kiss it better,” Scott offered.
“Oh, get away from me. You’re lethal!”
But Scott was not so easily put off. Bevin felt him fumbling in the darkness and laughing.
“Where did I get you?”
“I might have a black eye.”
“Which one?” Scott grappled with him and planted a kiss on each eyelid. “That better?”
“Are you naked?”
“Yeah, what is this, a feather duvet? It’s really warm. I need to get one of these.”
Bevin was lying on his back, almost pinned down. “That’s just because you have some kind of thermonuclear reactor in your body.”
“Is that your way of saying I’m hot?” Scott was taking advantage of the situation. His hand strayed down to the elasticized band of Bevin’s boxers. “Aren’t you a little warm, all dressed up like this?”
“I’m fine, thanks.” Bevin tried, rather half-heartedly, to push Scott off, but it devolved into a kind of freestyle wrestling match. Scott ended up triumphant, dragging off Bevin’s boxers and falling off the end of the bed with a heavy thud.
“Are you happy now?” Bevin inquired.
In the dim light, he saw Scott toss the underpants over his shoulder and launch himself back onto the bed. “Round two!” he declared, bouncing on the mattress.
“What are you after this time?”
“Guess.” Scott started to tickle Bevin’s stomach. Bevin twisted to get away. “I always could make you laugh.”
“Get off, get off!” But he was laughing. He couldn’t help it.
“See, laughter is the best medicine. And besides, I have been reliably informed that I am irresistible.”
“My eye still hurts.”
“Well, perhaps we need to try this again.”
Scott kissed him on the mouth, and in all seriousness. This was Bevin’s last chance to back out. He could still stop this, right now. But he let the moment pass.
Oh, who am I kidding?
Scott took charge, as he always had. He moved down over Bevin’s body. There was one area where Scott had always been proud of his skills. And he’d probably had some opportunity to practice in the last few years, whereas Bevin had not developed much of a basis for comparison.
“Hello, old friend,” Scott said.
“Scott, please do not talk to my… ahh.”
It seemed Scott was taking a shock-and-awe approach to blowjobs these days. He took Bevin’s only slightly hard cock in his mouth and seemed like he was about to swallow it whole. Apparently he had picked up some skills when it came to deep throating.
Clutching the mattress, Bevin saw red motes floating in front of his eyes as his rather neglected cock hardened with beautifully painful speed.
“Jesus,” he exclaimed.
He could actually feel Scott smiling as he continued his merciless attentions.
Raising his hands to clutch the rails of the headboard, Bevin felt tension building throughout his whole body. Scott eased Bevin’s legs wider, moving his tongue down the seam under Bevin’s cock and sucking his tight balls. Then Scott moved down the crease of his ass to his hole. That was foreshadowing of what was to come next, and the thing Bevin had always loved the most.
Scott prowled back up Bevin’s body and held himself aloft as they kissed again, moist and unconstrained. Bevin’s wet cock felt cool in the night air, sending a shiver right down his back.
Scott pressed his forehead against the side of Bevin’s face in a peculiar gesture, like a greeting from a friendly cat. “You see,” he said, “I’m not so bad.”
“Oh, you are very bad. I assure you.”
“Not with you I’m not.”
It seemed even after all these years, Scott knew him well. Knew what he wanted.
Bevin raised his knees and felt Scott position himself, taking his time, teasing with his fingers. The thought of a condom flitted through Bevin’s head, but for once he was too much in the moment to take precautions. Scott slid his cock in. He wasn’t that long, but he was thick and straight. Bevin winced as it pushed into him. It felt raw, and right.
Scott took his time in slow strokes, riding a wave of mutual pleasure, not letting it peak, as if not wanting it to end.
Sweat sprang up on Bevin’s body, sliding between them, stinging salty on his lips.
Scott pushed farther up on his arms, looking down at Bevin. The angle of his stroke, achingly deep, sparked excruciating responses from Bevin’s body. Back arched, Bevin felt he would come soon. His balls drew up tight and his stomach rippled with sensations he could no longer contain.
He clenched his teeth over what he wanted to say. Damn you, Scott. Damn you for being the only one who does this to me. Then his mind washed blank as he came.
As the release slowly faded, luxurious relaxation spread through his body. He felt open, he felt some kind of forgiven, and loved, just as Scott drove more ferociously to his own release. He felt acceptance. This was just how they were. This was just what they had.
And nothing more.
BY four thirty in the morning, Bevin knew it was time to get up. A little past time, in fact.
He had a manager who came in by three in the morning, along with a baker who started the product for the new day, but Bevin still needed to be in by six for opening. There would be deliveries to deal with, and he needed to continue his ongoing search for a barista to cover the early evening shift. There was also the matter of the cleaning company who had been doing a half-assed job. He needed to check whether they had finally cleaned the toilets properly, or if he would need to break the contract. That was bound to involve some acrimony. And if there was one thing Bevin hated, it was acrimony. His stomach churned at the very thought of having to make that call.
Scott, despite his protestations of being overheated, was bundled up under the duvet, leaving only one corner free for Bevin’s use. So it was relatively easy to slip out of the bed and gather some clothes to take to the bathroom.
He donned his usual work “uniform.” Everyone working at The Gables wore an embroidered polo in their signature forest green, and whatever casual trousers they liked, but not jeans. He brushed his teeth, packed up his laptop, and grabbed a sheaf of receipts he’d been meaning to go over. Then he was ready to go.
Back in the bedroom, he poked the blanketed lump with one finger. “Hey, Scott?”
“I’m off to work. Just shut the door behind you and it will lock.”
“What, already? It’s the middle of the fucking night.”
“Can’t you take a day off?”
“At zero days’ notice? No. I’m the boss. I have to keep everything running.”
“When do you get off, maybe we could….”
“Scott, it was great to see you,” Bevin said with blatantly false casualness. “But we aren’t starting anything here, okay? You have to get on with your life, and I have to get on with mine.”
“Oh, come on now.” Scott’s head emerged from under the covers, veiled by tangles of artfully highlighted hair.
“One booty call in ten years does not a relationship make.”
“You’re not, I mean, you’re not with someone, are you? ’Cause I’m not, like, possessive. We could timeshare.” It was always hard to tell when Scott was serious and when he was joking.
“No. I am not with anyone, and I doubt an on-again, off-again relationship with a closeted celebrity is going to help with that. Because I want someone who is at least a little bit possessive, or at least monogamous.”
“I’m not closeted.”
“No comment on the ‘monogamous’ then? And, yes, you are closeted. There is no such thing as ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in the music industry. There is out, and there is in. And if you were out, even I would have heard something about it.”
“You sound like my agent.” He crawled a little farther out from under the covers, exposing the lean line of his arm and a squarely built shoulder. “Don’t you think we ought to talk about this, just a little?”
Like Scott ever did anything “just a little.” Bevin hefted his laptop bag and sighed. “I think I need to go to work, and you said you need to head back to whatever you’re doing.”
“I’m not the same, Bev. This time we could have a real grown-up relationship.”
“So you’re responsible now, and considerate? You’ll remember my birthday and make sure there’s always milk in the refrigerator?”
“Maybe I am. Maybe I will.”
“So this is the new ‘responsible Scott’, and that’s why we used a condom last night, right?” Bevin said. “Or am I to assume you’ve used one every other time, or been celibate?”
“Yes—no—I mean, I’m fine. You could have said something.”
“I wasn’t thinking. You have that effect on me. I don’t think either of us were doing a lot of thinking last night. We don’t live in the same town. We don’t lead the same kind of lives. In pretty much every other way, we really aren’t compatible. I mean, we do nothing but argue.” Half of Bevin wanted Scott to insist on staying, and half wanted Scott to get the hell out of his bed, his house, and his life.
“That’s just because you keep disagreeing with me,” Scott tried to joke.
“We never did do much but have sex and argue. When we didn’t argue, it’s because I gave up trying. And I don’t think anything has changed. It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.”
“I’m not the one who broke it up back then.”
“No, okay, that was me, and this is me, and I’m the bad guy. I’m the unreasonable one. I’m the one who wants to have a quiet life doing the normal things that normal people do. And if there’s one thing you are never going to be, Scott, it’s normal.” Instead of a quick getaway, Bevin was getting more and more mired in this train wreck of a good-bye. But he couldn’t make himself turn around and walk away. The possibility of never seeing Scott again hung over him, and that wasn’t what he wanted either.
“Is that all you want to be, Bevin? Really?”
“Yes, it really is, Scott. Okay? It really is. I have… limitations. You probably don’t understand that, but… normal looks pretty good to me right now. It’s taken me some work to get here.”
There was really no point talking to Scott about panic attacks, anxiety, and his handful of specific phobias. Thanks to his twice-monthly meetings with Tabitha, the cognitive-behavioral therapist, he had things pretty much under control, but…. Bevin shook his head.
He left the house, forgetting to take his computer and papers with him. He didn’t go back for them. He just walked the short distance to the café as if it were any other day, willing it to be any other day. It was the same ten-minute walk he always took, and it still made him nervous when he walked past the open expanse of the parking lot or through the dark highway underpass—but tolerably so.
He didn’t go home at all until it was dark. And despite everything he had said to Scott, he was slightly disappointed to find the house empty.
Not even a note.
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The Taste of Ink by Francis Gideon Paperback