“COME on, dude. Go out with us. You don’t hafta do no talkin’.”
The whine in Torpedo’s voice set Jamison’s teeth on edge, but he ignored him, concentrating instead on helping Lincoln unload the kitchen cabinets from the back of the van. Despite the early hour, the temperature and his exertion already had Jamison itching to strip off his T-shirt.
“Kimmy says Pearl really likes the look of you,” Torpedo said. He put a hand on his hip and affected a high-pitched, lilting tone. “He’s foine! All those tattoos on those big ol’ arms, girl! I need to get ahold of some of that!” Lincoln and Jamison continued to ignore him as they carefully lowered the first box to the ground. “Jam, I’m talkin’ to you, man.”
“Enough, Torp!” Lincoln snapped.
Then and only then did Torp scramble up and away from his leisurely position against the side of the van. “Sorry, Linc,” he said, stepping forward to offer a hand, but the other two simply glared at him.
“Get in the van and get the other containers ready to offload,” Lincoln instructed. Torp hopped aboard, walked deep into the van, and began checking the labels so he could get them on deck in the proper order.
When Jamison and Lincoln returned from depositing the first box of cabinetry in the kitchen, Torp had the next two boxes nearly ready to offload. But instead of sliding the first forward, his gaze and concentration were unfortunately pulled away by the noisy approach of a car and the shrieking application of a parking brake from just behind their unloading area.
Jamison looked over his shoulder just as the car’s engine shut off. It was an old and oddly purple Volkswagon Beetle, driven by a young black woman—no, a man. He stepped from the car, then leaned back in to retrieve a large drawing pad and case of… pens? Pencils? Paints? Jamison couldn’t guess. His skin was a light coffee color, and he was fit and lean, solidly built. He probably worked out some. Not as much as Jamison, but some, and his mane of spongy, dark curls was held back out of his face by a yellow bandana. It reminded Jamison of how his mother used to control her hair when she was cooking a big dinner.
“Hello,” the young man said as he rushed by them, juggling his items into a better position to carry and almost tripping over his own feet, before walking through the open door of the house where they were installing the new kitchen.
“Huh?” he asked, jerking toward Lincoln.
“What are you looking at?” his boss asked.
“N-nothing.” Jamison felt his face grow warm with shame. “Sorry.” He’d been looking at the way the blue tank top and charcoal-gray cargo shorts hung on the new arrival’s slender form as he’d walked into the house.
“That’s the client’s brother. Some sort of artist studying at the university. He’ll be doing a mural in the nursery upstairs—”
Jamison glanced at Torp and saw the smirk on his face—the smirk that said Torp had a lot to say about their client’s brother—just before they both gripped the next container and slid it to the door of the van. Shit.
“—while we work downstairs. I don’t want to hear about anyone on my crew giving him trouble, got it?” Jamison quickly nodded as he struggled to support the container until Torp could hop down and help him. Once they’d set it safely on the ground, Lincoln focused on Torp. “Did you hear me, Torp?”
“Aw, boss, why you talkin’ to me? Why would I give him trouble?”
Lincoln narrowed his gaze and leaned in close enough to make Torp take an uncertain step backward. “Because he’s smarter than you, better-looking than you”—Torp snorted at that—“and more talented than you. The same reasons you hassled certain kids in high school. Now get that box inside!”
They had the van unloaded within an hour despite their sluggish, distracted beginnings. Jamison was glad that once Torp had something to focus on, he wasn’t much for talking. Instead, his best friend buckled down and concentrated on his measuring and cutting and placing of the overhead cabinets, then attaching their hardware. It wasn’t something Torp should lose focus on. Mistakes could be expensive, and he knew it.
Not that Jamison didn’t enjoy working with Torp. He did, and he loved his job. He had never made the grades to attend college, which worked out great since he didn’t have the money, but he had been good with his hands, liked to build things. His mother had often joked, “My boy is gonna be a carpenter like Jesus himself.”
Jamison didn’t know about that, but he did seem to have an aptitude for shop class, much to his teacher, Mr. Dunlop’s, delight. Unfortunately, crafting chairs and desks and tables by hand, and relying on word of mouth, hardly had him rolling in cash at nineteen. So he became an apprentice at Lincoln Frye Home Improvement, and after a few years as a glorified errand-boy and moving man, he’d gradually started picking up the ins and outs of remodeling homes.
Paint a room, secure an armoire, stain stairs, install molding, refinish or tile floors, build showers, install kitchen cabinets—every little project taught him more, helped him grow, earned him valuable skills. Lincoln had instructed him carefully and well, walked him through doing each new job right the first time, efficiently and beautifully.
But…. I’ve never seen a mural painted. Jamison paused in measuring the sink base cabinet, wiped his brow, and looked up at the kitchen ceiling, wondering what the young art student was doing. It’s awful quiet up there. Was he sketching, just thinking, or already painting?
“Get that base cabinet in, Jamison, and then you guys can break for lunch,” Lincoln said, startling him from his thoughts.
“Uh… okay, boss.”
Lincoln grinned. “You okay, son?”
Jamison nodded and went back to his measurements.
A short time later, he was sitting on the worn and frayed backyard deck, finishing off a double cheeseburger and listening to some weird, moany music wafting from the second-floor window above him.
Forget about your house of cards
And I'll do mine
The day had turned out decent, overcast and not too hot, an occasional breeze passing through to dry away any perspiration on his shaved head. He smiled to himself as he sucked mustard from his fingers, chasing the tangy sting of it with a gulp of sweet iced tea, and tried to imagine what the artist was doing up there now. Would he finish the mural in one day? What would it be? Cartoon animals? The alphabet? A landscape?
“Shit,” Torp said, plopping down beside him, “I’d better not get a fuckin’ splinter from this monster deck.” He raised up a bit onto one butt cheek, checking for damage.
“Don’t scoot,” Jamison said.
“Oh, it speaks.” Torp dug in his lunchbox and unwrapped a sandwich piled high with a variety of lunchmeats, and even after peeling off the vegetables and tossing them to the ground in disgust, he still had difficulty getting his mouth open wide enough to take his first bite. He sighed deeply as he chewed and then watched Jamison unwrap another cheeseburger before asking, “Jesus, Jam, where do you put all that?”
Jamison eyed his buddy’s manly meal.
“This?” Torp held up his sandwich and wiggled it. “This is nothing, big man. Kimmy makes these for me all the time.” He took another huge bite. As he chewed, he noticed the music above them had changed slightly.
You broke another mirror,
You're turning into something you are not
Torp grimaced. “What the hell is that fag listening to?” he asked around a mouthful of sandwich.
“Don’t say that.”
Torp looked around for Lincoln and, not seeing him, asked, “Why the fuck not? He is.”
“You don’t know that.”
Torp snorted and then choked, prompting Jamison to slap him hard on the back a couple of times until he’d regained his ability to breathe properly. “Uh-huh, y-yeah I do. I’d have to be blind not to notice that.”
Jamison opened his mouth to argue, but suddenly he noticed the music above them had stopped. Did he hear us? From deep in the house he heard someone running down the stairs. He turned to look over his shoulder and saw the art student stumble into the hallway, pause, and turn their way, spotting them. Shit. Jamison turned back around quickly and sipped his tea, his gaze riveted on the grass.
“Hey, fellas. I’m done for today. Got a late afternoon class. See ya tomorrow.” Jamison felt some tension drain out of him, but then the young man gave an exasperated sigh and a chuckle. “Sorry. Introductions?”
Jamison sensed the man come closer, and to his left Torp leapt up, quickly wiping sandwich crumbs off on his jeans. “I’m Theodore Machado III, but most folks call me Torpedo.”
“Uh… really? O-okay. Good to meet you, Torpedo”—Jamison smirked at how carefully the man repeated his friend’s name, as if trying it out on his tongue—“I’m Lonnie Bellerose. The very pregnant lady of the house is my sister.”
“Good to meet you, Mister—”
“Lonnie. Just call me Lonnie.”
The silence that followed brought some tension back into Jamison’s shoulders as he realized they were waiting on him, probably staring at his back. He began to sweat just as his eyes caught sight of a parade of ants moving across a worn, brown patch in the yard to his right. They looked hell-bent for the grass forest on the other side of their tiny clearing. Take me with you.
“He don’t talk much,” Torp explained, then smacked the back of Jamison’s head. “Jam, introduce yourself, man.”
Jamison took a deep breath and slowly stood, turning to face them as he did. Lonnie’s gaze followed him, his eyes widening as Jamison continued to rise above him. Lonnie’s lips parted slightly, almost gasping when he had to tilt his head back a bit to look Jamison in the eyes.
Green. His eyes are green, Jamison noted. He almost stepped closer, almost revealed the pull he felt, but he stopped himself, fearing the same reaction from Lonnie that he’d gotten since his first growth spurt. When you don’t smile much and you’re big and you’re black and you’re tattooed and you’re silent, people—strangers—all react the same way.
It had served him well growing up, carrying him safely through adolescence in a rough neighborhood and keeping bad influences—and even some good ones—at a distance. But as he looked into Lonnie’s bright green eyes, it suddenly hit Jamison that the last thing he wanted from this man was distance.
A smile slowly spread across Lonnie’s beautiful face—full lips, narrow nose, long dark lashes, and high cheekbones. Yum. He was almost as pretty as a girl, but so very much a man.
“My… you’re… you’re—”
“I’m Jamison Coburn.”
Lonnie slowly extended his hand, and Jamison took it. “I’m… I’m….”
Jamison allowed himself to grin. “You’re… Lonnie Bellerose.”
Lonnie barked in laughter, snorted, and smacked himself in the forehead. “Ha! Yeah, yeah, I’m Lonnie. Sorry.” He shook his head, his curls bouncing. “Spaced out a bit there. Nice to m-meet you, Jamison.”
“And you, Lonnie,” Jamison said softly. “Enjoy your class.”
“Right,” Lonnie almost whispered, nodding, staring, grinning. “Thank you.”
They stared at each other for several more heartbeats, and then Lonnie turned on his sockless but sneakered feet, juggled his drawing pad and art bag, and walked right into the closed half of the French doors. He stumbled backward, but Jamison grabbed him and steadied him by the shoulders, aiming him properly at the open door.
Lonnie looked back at him and laughed again. “Thanks f-for that.”
Jamison simply nodded and pointed at the doorway, silently urging him to watch his step. He watched Lonnie walk through the kitchen, all the way down that long hall to the front door, heard Lonnie’s noisy VW grind to life, and caught a flash of purple as he drove away.
“You can’t see that?” Torp asked, shaking his head and shooing a fly from the remainder of his sandwich before taking another bite.
I saw it, all right, Jamison thought, smiling.