DEAN MILFORD sat at a table against the wall of Club Marquee in Milwaukee’s Third Ward bar district, waiting for his best friends, Brent and Trevor. His foot tapped to the constant drumming of the music, not because he particularly liked it but because it had been months since he’d had a night out with the guys. Over the last couple of years, both Trevor and Brent had found guys who made their hearts go pitter-pat, so Dean had been the odd man out more and more frequently.
He lifted his beer and took a drink, then sighed softly. Dean lifted his gaze to the largely unoccupied dance floor, where four guys moved to the music, one of them a hot, lithe little number in jeans that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. If this were a cartoon, Dean’s eyes would have beat back and forth like a metronome attuned to the gyrations of his perfect globed butt. The guy he was with couldn’t seem to find the beat no matter how hard he tried, and Dean thought about getting up and showing him how it was done. A guy who couldn’t move on the dance floor probably couldn’t move in the bedroom either, Dean thought, his lip curling. Hot Stuff shuffled closer to his companion, slowing him down as he placed his hands on his hips, moving his lips closer to the guy’s ear. And then their heads rested on each other’s shoulders and the dissonance between them disappeared.
Dean turned away with a growly huff under his breath. The two of them were in lurve, and it was all Dean could do not to roll his eyes and stomp out of the damned place. Love was the bane of his existence. And hell, it probably didn’t fucking exist. Not really. Dean thought he had found love, the big kind with a bright future and a happily-ever-after. But it had been just an illusion, and reality, at least for him, was just a gut ball of hurt.
He drank some more beer and turned toward the door, checking the time on his phone before allowing his gaze to wander to the bartender, who was hot as hell in a completely different way from the guy on the dance floor. The bartender’s black T-shirt was so tight, it looked like it might split apart at the seams any second. Dean had talked to Marvin a few times. He used to be one of the bouncers here, but it looked like he’d moved up in the world and was now tending bar. Dean tried to remember how long that had been and couldn’t. The weeks and months ran together.
Brent entered the front door of the club, looked around, and then nodded, coming right over to the table. Dean stood and hugged him. “Trevor is out front trying to find place to park his car,” Brent explained as he gave the club a cursory look and then sat down. “God, this place hasn’t changed at all.” There was something in the way Brent said it that rubbed Dean the wrong way, making him feel out of place. Brent and Trevor were some of his closest friends, but now it was as if he had less of a connection with them. It sucked to realize that he was an outsider with the people he considered family.
“I like it here,” Dean countered. At least he belonged here.
Brent shook his head and shrugged, but didn’t say anything more. Dean wanted to press Brent about his statement and the condescension in his voice, but he was saved by Trevor’s appearance in the doorway and the resulting ripple through the people inside. Trevor turned heads wherever he went, and tonight was no different. A few guys actually made their way over toward the door, circling Trevor like birds of prey, wondering how to make their move.
Dean and Trevor hugged, and Trevor sat at the table, seemingly oblivious to the minor stir that he’d just caused. “It’s been a while. What have you been doing?” Trevor asked. Trevor and Brent saw each other all the time now that Brent was working for Trevor, managing one of his auto repair garages. But Dean wasn’t really a part of their lives anymore. The three of them used to be as close as brothers, but in the last few years, things had changed. Trevor had met James, the love of his life, and Brent had finally made his move with Scott, after an accident had cost Scott his hearing. That had left Dean as the only one of them unattached. Not that Dean had any intention of going down that road again. He was still dealing with the fallout from his last romantic relationship, even after three years. He wasn’t sure his heart or his sanity could take it again.
“Let me see.” Dean smiled. “A couple months ago, I got a line on a ’63 Cobra. It was just a nibble, but I followed it up. The car was in a barn outside Port Washington and had probably been there for close to thirty years. The rubber on the tires had turned to goo and stuff like that.” He leaned closer to the guys now that he had their undivided attention. “The owner’s name is Helen, and it was her husband’s car. He bought it new, and after he died, she didn’t know what to do with it. Helen wasn’t going to drive it, but she didn’t feel right selling it either, so it just sat in the garage, all those years, under a cover.”
Trevor and Brent shared a look. “Did you buy it?” Trevor asked.
Dean bit his lower lip. “Yeah, I did. She had done her research and knew the car was valuable, but she was also reasonable and realized that it was going to take a lot of work, including bringing in a flatbed to get the car out of the garage. So she let me have it for a good price, as long as I promised to fix it up.” Dean could barely keep his butt on his chair. “I showed her before and after pictures of the cars I had done, and I think that sealed the deal for her.”
Trevor patted him on the back, a hint of jealousy in his eyes. “Good for you. That’s a real find. I know it will turn out amazing—you do exceptional work.”
“Thanks,” Dean said, a little surprised at how much he needed the compliment. Business had been tough, his friends seemed to be growing away from him, and even the guys at the clubs, his refuge, weren’t as interested. What was left of his self-esteem had been taking a beating.
“I can’t wait to see it,” Brent added. “What kind of shape is it in, other than the expected deterioration?”
“The engine is intact but will need a complete overhaul, and the body is in one piece. That alone is worth the price I paid. The seats and interior are shot, but the structure of the car is really good.” Dean could hardly wait to start fixing the car up. Unfortunately….
“What’s the issue?” Trevor asked. He always seemed to be able to get to the heart of the matter where Dean was concerned.
“Who said there was an issue?” Dean challenged. He resented his friends for immediately thinking there was something wrong, as if he wasn’t as good as they were.
“Dean,” Trevor said as he motioned to one of the cocktail waiters, who made his way over. “I’d like a martini, and Brent here is going to have a vodka tonic. Please bring another beer for Dean as well,” he ordered.
The server hurried off like God had just spoken to him. Dean wondered how Trevor did that and what sort of magic he had to charm every guy he came across.
Trevor turned his attention back to Dean. “I’ve known you for years, and a car like that is going to take some serious bucks to restore. You do amazing work, and I understand you wanting to work for yourself, but….”
“Trevor…,” Dean cautioned, hating to admit that in his excitement over the Cobra, he might have financially taken on more than he could handle, especially now that his dad had retired. Trevor had offered him a job in the past, but Dean liked being able to do his own thing. His passion wasn’t repairing cars, like Trevor, but bringing them back to life and restoring them to their original condition. “This is supposed to be a fun night out, not a business meeting.”
Both Trevor and Brent shared a look of doubt, and maybe worry.
“Why don’t we dance?” Dean suggested.
“Because James isn’t here, and neither is Scott.” Trevor paused as the server brought their drinks. He paid in cash, with a nice tip.
“If you need anything else….” The server smiled and stood still for a few seconds, clearly expecting some sort of offer, or at least a comment on his cuteness, but Trevor had already turned away.
Damn, Trevor really had changed. Just a few years earlier, Trevor would have flirted at the very least, and probably have arranged to take the guy home. Dean, on the other hand, wouldn’t have minded seeing what Waiter Boy had under that tight shirt and jeans, but when Dean met his gaze, the younger man turned away as if Dean barely existed. That was becoming more and more common lately. Maybe he had to check out some different places, meet new people.
“I don’t spend my evenings in bars and clubs any longer,” Trevor said. “After work, I go home to James.”
Dean huffed. “Yeah, I know. You have your dinner parties and weekends with the family.” Why was he being so pissy? Trevor and James were happy. There was nothing wrong with that.
“God,” Brent whispered under his breath.
“Don’t mind me. Things have been difficult lately.” Dean drained his beer and picked up the one Trevor had ordered for him.
“What’s really going on?” Trevor pressed. “You’ve been morose and sullen for weeks.”
Dean wished he had an answer. Life just sucked right now. “Fine. I don’t have the resources to fix up the Cobra, I haven’t been out with anyone in weeks, and most of the guys in the clubs look at me like I’m a washed-up, grumpy old man.” God, he sounded like an old man too. What the hell had happened to him? He was many things, but not a fucking whiner.
“I can’t help you with the old man part, but if you drop by the office tomorrow, maybe we can figure something out.”
“I don’t want to work in the garage,” Dean said. “I’m not interested in that.”
Trevor set down his glass. “What are you interested in? Man, you and I have been friends for years, but you act like we’re still twenty-two years old. We’re not.”
“Yeah, maybe not, but you can’t tell me that you aren’t at least a little interested in all that.” Dean motioned to the floor, where dozens of guys were bumping, grinding, and moving together in a near orgy. They were hot, young, and vibrant, with enough energy to keep going all night long. The electricity in the place increased by the second, and Dean momentarily plugged into it, letting it wind around his spirit and take him along for the ride.
Rather than talking, Dean slid out of his chair and headed to the floor. He purposely didn’t turn around as he sauntered up to one of the guys standing near the edge, moving to the music. He was tall and wiry, with a head of curly blond locks and huge blue eyes.
The guy watched Dean intently, then stepped closer to the guys near him. “That old guy is coming over,” Dean read on his lips, and he slipped behind the others. Dean pretended to notice someone behind the kid and continued on, ignoring him and his comment, but the wind had gone from his sails. He walked through the crowd to the bathroom, where he made use of the facilities, ignoring what was going on in the stalls, then washed his hands and turned to leave.
“Struck out?” Brent asked when he returned to the table.
Dean had to stop himself as a surge of testosterone-fueled anger dared him to punch Brent square in the face.
“Hey, man, don’t take it out on me.”
“Brent, Dean, calm down,” Trevor said calmly. “What happened?”
“Damned kids. He’s probably too young to be in here anyway,” Dean grumbled. He was thirty-three, and that wasn’t old. At least Dean didn’t see himself that way. But obviously other people did. He was still fit and took care of himself. Sure, there were a few more lines around his eyes, but he had a great smile and probably needed to show it more.
Trevor leaned back in his chair, finishing his drink. “Let’s get the hell out of here. There’s a great new Mexican fusion place just up the road a few blocks. I helped the owners out a few months ago, so I can probably get us a table.” He set down his glass. “I’m hungry, and James is teaching a class tonight. What do you say? At least there we could talk without having to shout.”
Dean laughed. “God, are you getting old.” He reached over, grinning a second. “Is that gray in your hair?”
Trevor batted away his hand. “Maybe one or two strands. I told James about it, and he shrugged and said, ‘I don’t see any.’”
“Of course he did. James is blind, both literally and to all your imperfections,” Dean argued. This was becoming a stupid conversation.
“Yeah, and he doesn’t care what I look like. He only cares about who I am.” Trevor stood. “You need to find someone who cares for you the same way. And it isn’t any of the guys in this place.” Trevor pulled out his phone to make a call. By the time he hung up, he had a table for them at the restaurant and was practically herding them to the door.
“When did he get so pushy?” Dean asked Brent. “I think we’re getting the bum’s rush.”
Brent leaned close as if he was going to share a secret. “He wants to talk to you—we both do.”
Great, just what he needed. Dean thought of begging off and going home for a second, but what was he going to do then? No. These were his friends and they cared about him. Dean took a deep breath to let go of his anger. Brent and Trevor cared enough to take an interest. Dean should hold on to that, rather than being a jerk. He thought for a second about going to another club. But he needed to face it: he was in a rut, and he needed to change his luck. Besides, he was hungry… and broke, if he were truthful. And a night spent drinking was not going to help his money problems or anything else. What he needed were his friends. And he should be acting like a friend in return, instead of letting his frustration with his own life get the better of him.
Dean followed the guys out into the night, the music retreating and falling off by the time he reached his car. “The restaurant is a couple blocks that way.” Trevor pointed south. “I’ll meet you there. We have a table in half an hour. James just messaged that his class is out, so I’m going to pick him up and will be right back.” Trevor slipped into his convertible and whipped out of his parking space.
“Why in the hell does he have to act so damned perky all the time?” Dean asked as he watched Trevor go, his gut churning.
“Because he is,” Brent answered. “Trevor is deliriously happy. He loves his job, and he goes home every night to James. They have a wonderful life, and they’re content.” Brent turned away from Dean. “And maybe the reason you’re so sullen and broody is because you aren’t satisfied with how things are. I know you like to put on that ‘I’m having all the sex I want and can have any guy I see’ front, but you aren’t happy.” Brent took a step closer. “My guess is that you’re tired of this whole clubbing, ‘different guy whenever I can get one’ sort of life. You sure act like you are.”
Dean ground his teeth together. “What I’m tired of is everything changing all the fucking time. The three of us used to have a great time together. We went out, met guys, and had one another’s backs for years. Now I’m lucky if I get to see you every few months, and only then if I make a damned appointment.” He took a mental step back. “I guess I’m feeling left out and alone.” God, why had that been so hard to say?
“Well, we have lives. I’m sorry if you feel that way, but Trevor has James and I have Scott, and our lives have taken different paths. You have to remember back to when you were with Dumbfuck Chuck. The two of you did your own thing.”
“Yeah, and look what happened? Dumbfuck cut me off from everyone, using our relationship as a way to isolate me. He was obsessive, controlling, and then the damned shit cheated on me.” Dean hated thinking about how messed up things had gotten. That experience still colored so much of his life.
“And you think James is doing that with Trevor, or Scott with me?” Brent raised his eyebrows. “We just have lives, but they don’t include going out to places like this one.” He motioned back to the club as two guys stumbled out, one of them just making it to the curb before puking in the storm drain. “I’m thirty-four, and Trevor is a little older. We aren’t kids anymore, and we wanted to build real lives.” Brent tugged Dean toward his car. “Leave yours here. I think you’ve had more than enough to drink already. Some food and a little time will make you feel better.”
Dean got into the passenger seat of Brent’s Corolla and put his head back. “Maybe it’s the alcohol that has me feeling this way.”
“I doubt it. I think you’re just trying to forget the hurt and loneliness.” Brent closed his door and started the engine.
“Where are we going? There’s still time before we have to be to the restaurant.”
“You and I can have some coffee while we wait,” Brent told him pointedly. “I think you’ll feel better.” He pulled out and parked a few blocks away, around the corner, and they walked to the restaurant and went inside. There were two places at the far end of the bar, and Brent ordered them each an espresso.
Dean reached for the small cup that was placed before him and took a deep breath of the rich aroma. He sipped and watched the others in the restaurant. What a difference from the club. Everyone was paired up, it seemed, couples laughing and leaving together, one set of lovers walking hand in hand back to their table.
Dean drank his darkly rich coffee and let the caffeine work its magic. Maybe he had been drinking too much and going out too often. Lord knows it hadn’t been helping his bottom line, which was almost on life support. He’d used damned near everything to buy that car.
By the time Trevor returned with James, Dean felt a little more like himself.
“Our table is ready,” Trevor said, and they followed the host toward the back of the restaurant. Trevor stayed with James, gently guiding him through the tight space.
“It’s good to see you, Dean,” James said, giving him and Brent a hug, then allowing Trevor to show him to his chair and explain where everything was in front of him. “Trevor told me you bought a real top-notch muscle car.” James leaned a little closer over the table. “Is it one of your restoration projects?”
“That was the plan,” Dean answered, alternately looking at the other two. “It was pretty expensive.”
Trevor took James’s hand. “I was telling Dean that he should come to talk to me tomorrow.”
James smiled and turned to his husband. “Is this another of your crazy business ideas?” There was so much humor in his voice.
Dean narrowed his gaze at Trevor. “I’m one of your ideas?” He wasn’t sure he liked the thought of that.
“I guess we’re talking about this now,” Trevor said. He paused, then looked at Dean. “There’s an old Sears auto service center about half a mile down the road from the garage on Brown Deer. They were using it as overflow for the main center before that closed and they tore it down. It’s been sitting empty for months. I was thinking of buying it for expansion purposes in the area. It has the space and basic facilities we’d need, but now I’m considering turning it into an auto restoration center instead. I’m always getting calls for restoration work, but I don’t have the resources for it or the leadership. It isn’t something that I have experience with. But there are a number of guys in my organization who would love that sort of work.”
“You want me to work for you?” Dean asked.
“In a way, yes. I know you have clients and are working for yourself, but if I hired you, basically merged your business into mine, we could expand and move the business to a larger location with more resources.” Trevor was serious. “I know you’re strapped right now, and I want to help. Just think about it, okay?”
“Dean, working with Trevor has been great,” Brent commented.
Dean wasn’t sure what to say. He had been struggling for months to hold everything together. He knew there was plenty of business, but that meant beating the bushes in order to find those customers first. And if he was doing that, then he wasn’t working on the cars and getting jobs done to bring the money in. Nothing had been working out the way he’d hoped it would. And after buying the Cobra, he didn’t have extra cash to fool around with. Dean knew he probably should have passed on the purchase, but that car was a once-in-a-lifetime find—he just couldn’t let it go. The chance to work on something like that was every car guy’s dream.
“But what about the work I have already?” Dean asked. He didn’t like the idea of giving up his autonomy, but it really wasn’t getting him where he wanted to be. And there was no way he’d be able to restore many classic muscle cars without more resources than he had.
“You and I need to get together, see where the projects are at, get the ones finished that you can, and move the others to the new location. If we do this deal, I can get you some help so you’ll be able to finish things up faster. We’ll have to sit down and figure stuff out. But all in all, I think this would work out well for both of us.”
Trevor seemed so confident that Dean could almost believe him.
Their server took drink orders, and the conversation stalled until he left.
“What about the Cobra?” Dean asked.
“What were you really hoping to get out of it?” Trevor asked. “It’s going to take a great deal of work and resources to bring one of those back after that much time. Were you expecting to make a ton of money reselling it?”
Dean sighed. “What I was hoping was that I could rebuild and restore it, then use it to build my reputation. Take it to some car shows, maybe win some prizes, let people see what I can do, and hopefully get some top-end work from it.”
Trevor nodded. “I like that idea. So we restore the Cobra, and in the process generate interest and get people talking. Duncan, my marketing genius, can promote the idea and help bring in business to both places.” He smiled, and Dean found himself smiling too.
“I’d want part of the business. I’ve worked for myself for a number of years now, and I don’t want to go back to working for someone else.”
“Sounds good to me,” Trevor said as the server returned with their drinks. “As I said earlier, stop by the office, and you and I will hammer out the details.”
Trevor seemed happy with the idea, and Dean had to admit, it would take a great load off his shoulders. But was it what he really wanted? It would be nice to work out of a proper service facility instead of his garage at home, to have elevators and lifts and all the equipment he struggled to afford.
What he really loved, more than just about anything, was taking a car that time, neglect, and maybe an accident had reduced to a bundle of parts and bring it back, give it a new life. There were few things more rewarding for him than transforming a bent and broken hunk of steel into a shining automobile—except maybe the sharp intake of breath from the owner when they saw it again for the first time. The entire process gave him a rush that no drug could ever hope to compete with. So maybe letting Trevor handle the business side of things and just focusing on what truly made him happy wasn’t such a bad idea.
“Sir?” The server’s voice cut through his thoughts. “Did you know what you wanted to eat?”
Dean nodded and placed his order, still a little taken aback by the events of the evening. “We can give it a try and see how things work out,” Dean said, feeling a little lighter already.
“Good. Drop by tomorrow,” Trevor said with a wide smile that put some of Dean’s fears to rest. Trevor was his friend and had been for years. He wasn’t going to do anything to hurt him. And while Trevor was driven and successful, there wasn’t a dishonest bone in his body.
“Did you all have fun at the club?” James asked.
“Poor Dean here got shot down by some hot young thing. That was pretty entertaining,” Brent teased, and Dean did his best to shrug it off, but it got to him. Not Brent’s teasing, but the fact that he was getting older. Dean hated that. He wanted to be young and pretty again, and damn it all, part of him felt as though Chuck had stolen his youth from him in the six years that they were together.
“Brent,” James said. “That isn’t nice. Trevor better not have laughed either, because he’s not as young as he used to be.” James leaned slightly over the table, nearly spilling a glass of water, but Trevor caught it and moved it away without saying anything. “Trevor is starting to slow down, you know. He even has gray hair.” James sat back up and slowly petted the nape of Trevor’s neck. “See?” He pointed to one.
“Okay,” Trevor said. “How do you know what color my hair is?”
James giggled like a cartoon villain. “The gray hairs are a little wirier,” he said, like everyone should know that. “Trevor had really thick, full hair, but the gray ones are thicker and therefore a little coarser.” He sat back, as though he had made some pronouncement from on high. “Not that I’m complaining, because I love Trevor, but it does make me wonder if he’ll get all vain and stuff as he gets older.” James wagged his finger at Trevor. “No hair color. I’ll know, and that stuff stinks.”
Brent and Dean both chuckled. “You can’t put much over on him,” Dean quipped. He liked James. The guy had gone blind as a teenager and had it harder than most folks, but he was upbeat and happy, with an unashamed blissful expression on his face. He now taught at the school for the blind and really seemed to understand how to navigate his world. James radiated happiness. And Trevor did too. Part of Dean was jealous of it, yet the idea of being that happy sometimes scared him to death.
Dean had thought he’d known that kind of happiness once… but it had ended in complete disaster. Chuck had cheated and he hadn’t always been safe about it. That resulted in Dean having to visit the doctor, get blood tests, worry at night waiting for results, divide their property, kick the guy he’d thought he loved out of his house, and then fight the bastard when he tried to claim that part of it was his. The whole thing had been ugly, and Dean swore he wouldn’t go through something like that again. But being alone all the time really sucked, and seeing his friends all paired up and building lives was a little disconcerting.
He should be used to being alone by now. Dean had spent enough of his life on the outside, even with his parents. They were much more interested in their own lives, work, and community efforts than they were in him. The thing was, he’d actually thought that was over for him, that with Chuck he had found someone to spend his life with. Dean had made plans, and he’d been happy. At least that’s what he’d thought—until Chuck had cheated and Dean’s eyes had been opened to just how much Chuck had been controlling him and their lives.
Most of their friends had been Chuck’s friends, and their vacations had been of Chuck’s choice and planning. The time Dean had wanted to share with his friends had always conflicted with plans Chuck had already made and committed to. Everything had been Chuck’s way, and Dean hadn’t made waves, just going along with it in almost every facet of their lives, except for Dean’s work. That had been the one thing that was his. Dean had been blind to Chuck’s manipulations. His eyes had only been opened when everything had come crashing down around him.
“Of course not. I might not be able to see, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know all kinds of things. I have fantastic hearing, and I can smell your awful cologne a mile away. I can tell that there was smoking, probably outside the club, but that someone in the place had been smoking weed and you were probably pretty close to them, unless that’s some new vice you’ve taken up.” James snickered at him. “I teach my students to learn to use all their remaining senses.”
“I’ve always wanted to ask—did your hearing get better because you were blind?”
“Not really. What’s different is that I rely on my ears now—I pay attention to what I hear. Sighted people tend to rely on what they can see first. I have to use all my senses.” James slowly reached over the table, and Dean extended his hands. “See, I can tell you work with your hands because they’re rough. I know you work on cars, but you haven’t been doing that much in the past few days.”
“How can you tell?” James was right, which surprised him.
“You don’t smell of oil or grease the way you might, and your hands don’t have any oily residue on them. You always smell clean when I see you, but that cologne you’re wearing is awful. You should dump it and get something less strong that’s more in tune with your body chemistry. It’s fighting with you instead of complementing you.” James released his hand and sat back.
“Try living with that every day,” Trevor said without any heat, smiling at James.
“Quit it. You love me, and you know it.” James held Trevor’s arm and leaned against him.
The server brought chips and guacamole, which was spicy and interesting, clearing the coffee from Dean’s palate. He had switched to soda and water because he was going to have to drive, and Dean was surprised at how quickly he didn’t miss the club, with its pounding music, sweat, and the crush of guys. That wasn’t why he’d liked going out. What Dean had been missing was time spent with friends, having people in his life.
“There’s a fundraiser for the school in a couple of weeks,” James said after drinking a sip of his gin and tonic. “There are still some tickets left, and I’m the one they put on the hook to try to sell them. Sorry, guys.” Though James couldn’t see, Dean knew he realized he was getting the evil eye right about now.
“Scott and I will take a pair,” Brent said.
“Great, and tell Scott not to worry. We’ve arranged for a deaf interpreter to be at the gathering. We wanted this to be ultrainclusive.”
“Then I’ll come too,” Dean said, not wanting to be left out and figuring this was some kind of opening for him to rejoin the living.
“Great, I knew I could count on you guys to take some of the heat off.” James smiled.
When their food arrived, Trevor took a minute to explain James’s plate to him before taking a bite of his own dinner. The Trevor Dean had known for a good share of his life had been a hedonist, a man out looking for pleasure. Heck, he remembered when Trevor used to walk into a club and saunter right up to the hottest guy there. Sometimes he was cute, with huge eyes and a lithe figure that was perfect to wrap around him. Other times he set his sights on the steamiest muscle stud in the place. No one had said no—until James. Trevor was irresistible to most men. It was almost strange to see this Trevor sitting quietly with his husband, adoration instead of conquest in his expression.
“What summer plans do you have for this year?” James asked as he carefully searched for his water glass. Trevor whispered something into his ear, and James located it more easily. “Trevor and I are going to the beach. He promised to take me to the ocean.”
“Are you guys going to the Jersey Shore?” Brent asked. “Like the TV show?”
“No. A customer offered me a place south of Ocean City, Maryland. It’s on a quieter island just across the border in Virginia—Chincoteague. It has touristy stuff, but there is access to a great beach, and James and I will be able to swim and play in the surf for hours.” Trevor lightly bumped James’s shoulder.
“I’ve always wanted to go to the ocean. I know I can’t see it, but I can hear and smell it, and I’ve heard there’s nothing like it. Trevor says that someday he and I might even go to Australia or the South Pacific somewhere.” James grew excited. “I searched for it online, and there’s this place where you can cuddle a koala bear. According to the website, it’s one of the few places you can still do that.” James seemed completely stoked. “I wonder if they’re soft and what they smell like. I know I’ll have to be careful. They’re still wild animals.”
“Sweetheart, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves,” Trevor said gently. “We’re only going to the beach.” He smiled indulgently. “James has a huge list of places he wants to experience. We’re thinking of taking a cruise this winter to get away from the cold.”
“How do you navigate strange places like that?” Dean asked, after swallowing.
“I have to rely on someone to direct me most of the time.” James set down his fork and took Trevor’s arm. “If we go on a cruise, then I would get very familiar with our cabin and where everything is, but once we step out, I would be reliant on Trevor because there are so many things that change and move. I’m a little nervous about going because I don’t know if I’d get seasick or not. And Trevor will need to stay with me almost the entire time. It’s not like I’ll even be able to get through a buffet or get a drink without help.”
“Not that I’m complaining, but things just take longer for us sometimes.” Trevor patted James’s hand. “It’s all part of being loved by this man.” He smiled. “Okay, let’s change the subject. Did you see the Porsche that was brought in yesterday?”
“You work on those?” Dean asked.
“They took it to the dealership, but their mechanics couldn’t figure it out. I’m going to ask Lee and Scott to check it out tomorrow.”
Dean paused, his mind instantly recalling the last time he saw Lee. The younger man always worked with his best friend, Scott. They were an odd pair. Scott was Lee’s eyes, and Lee was Scott’s ears. The two of them had worked together since James had brought car-crazy Lee to the garage in an effort to help him adjust to losing his sight. They were like Mutt and Jeff. Not that Dean paid much attention to Scott—Brent would probably break his nose if he did—but Lee…. More than once when he’d stopped into the service station on Brown Deer, Dean had found himself watching Lee.
“Why them?” Dean asked absently, his mind’s eye still seeing Lee’s long, lithe body pressed close to Scott. They communicated through touch, and more than once Dean had wished he could take Scott’s place for just a couple of hours.
“Lee has an incredible sense of hearing and can often tell what’s wrong with a car by listening to it. Scott has amazing instincts, and together they can do just about anything,” Brent explained. “When Lee lost his sight, James asked if he could come to the garage, since Lee has always loved cars, and, well….”
James took over the story. “Lee is a car guy, pure and simple, so I arranged for him to spend some time at the garage. I was hoping it would give him back some of what he lost. Scott became his friend and work partner. When Scott was in an accident and lost his hearing, Lee was there for him, and they figured out how to work together again. They each have special talents—it’s like cars talk to them.”
Brent nodded his agreement and cut into his beef. Dean did the same as the conversation at the table died down. His mind wandered back to Lee and how every time he saw him, Dean damned near made a fool of himself. Lee was in his early twenties, and Dean was, well, an old man by comparison. More than once he’d stood at the windows in Brent’s office while he waited for Brent or Trevor, watching Lee, his mind rolling through possibilities that had about a snowball’s chance in hell.
Granted, Lee couldn’t see him, so he wouldn’t immediately know the mileage that Dean had put on himself, but it was the wear and tear on his spirit and on his soul that Dean really worried about.
“Lee is a good guy,” James said, and it took Dean a second to realize that James was talking to him. “He’s been through a lot, more than most people his age.”
Dean could have sworn by the little grin on James’s lips that he knew all Dean’s secrets.