Chapter One

 

DILLY LOCKED his front door behind him, tossed his two rumpled shopping bags onto a table, scooped his gray tabby cat, Grace, off the floor, and collapsed on the couch. He rubbed the aching spot on his forehead while Grace tucked her head under his chin and purred, happy to see him as always. He sat there stunned for a minute, shaking his head. He still couldn’t believe he had tripped over that ridge in the sidewalk again. Hell, it was right outside his apartment building; you’d think he’d remember it was there.

He pulled his fingers from his forehead to check for blood, but didn’t see any. Still, there would be a mark tomorrow. Maybe even a black eye. That was all he needed.

Of course, the real mark was the one left inside. It came from the memory of the two gay guys who had been walking toward him on the sidewalk when he tripped. He had seen them trying not to laugh when he landed—splat—on the concrete practically at their feet, bag of Jack in the Box flying in one direction, parcel of books from the thrift store flying off in another. The gay guys were gentlemanly enough to help him to his feet, tut sympathetically, and dust him off. They even gathered up his belongings for him. But after all the Good Samaritan stuff, Dilly heard them snorting back a few giggles as they walked away.

Not that Dilly was surprised. It had to have been pretty funny. A grown man sprawling flat, arms and legs flopping all over the place, then trying to act like nothing happened. Pooh-poohing their ministrations, assuring them, “No, no, don’t worry about me. I’m just fine, thanks. See, look, even my dinner is still intact. Ha-ha.”

He sat there on the couch cuddling his cat, as a wash of heat flowed into his cheeks. Delayed humiliation. Well, at least nobody could see him blush but Grace.

He realized suddenly that the cat was blurrier than usual. Balancing Grace on his chest, he dug through his jacket pockets and pulled out his black-rimmed glasses. It required digging through two pockets because the glasses were now in two pieces. One lens and earpiece in one pocket, the other lens and earpiece in the other pocket. Snapped in two above the nose guard when his head smacked the sidewalk. The two gay guys had gathered those up for him too. One piece had been in the gutter, the other ten feet away next to a parking meter.

He eyed the glasses sadly. He couldn’t really afford new ones. He’d have to tape them together. Well, at least he had some black Gorilla Tape in the kitchen drawer. He wouldn’t have to stoop to sporting a blob of white medical tape over the bridge of his nose like every other clumsy putz in the world with broken glasses.

Only when Grace started licking at it did he notice the blood dribbling from his nose. He dropped his head to the back of the couch and sighed. Between sighs, he dabbed the blood away with the heel of his hand. Jesus. Could he be any more pathetic?

After a while, the smell of Jack in the Box dragged him out of his stupor. He kicked off his shoes, then stripped every stitch of clothing from his five-foot-six-inch frame. The blinds were open, but it was still daylight so no one could see in. For a minute he just stood there naked in the middle of his crummy studio apartment with the cracks in the ceiling and the threadbare carpet on the floor, letting the shadows of evening deepen around him. Finally he shook himself to action and pulled a pair of beat-up lounging pants from the closet. He stepped into them and tightened the cord so they wouldn’t slide down over the rise of his ass and puddle at his feet.

He opened a can of Friskies for Grace, patted her little head for a minute, crooning softly while she ate, then parked himself at his kitchen table and unloaded the fries and burgers he had carried home from the fast-food joint up the street. His fries were scattered across the bottom of the bag, so he simply poured them out onto the table in front of him. One of the burgers was pretty much disassembled after being flung across the sidewalk, but he folded it back together and ate everything anyway.

By the time he finished dinner, it was almost fully dark. He sprawled on the faded, lumpy couch that came with the apartment and stared at the blank screen of his TV, too dispirited to turn it on. In the reflection, he saw himself staring back. When his eyes started to ache because he wasn’t wearing his glasses, he groaned his way to his feet and fetched the Gorilla Tape from the kitchen. Tools in hand, he went to work mending his specs.

He did the repair job as neatly as he could. The black tape did indeed match the black frames, but still he knew the glasses would sit crooked on his face and make him look goofier than he did already.

It took an inordinate amount of willpower not to simply slump off the front of the couch, bang his head on the coffee table, and start bawling like a toddler. He lifted his eyes back to the blank TV screen and with his glasses once again perched on his nose, albeit crookedly as he knew they would be, he could see his half-naked self in the TV’s reflection. His dark hair was a mess. His young body, lean and pale, had a tiny patch of chest hair between his meager pecs and another patch of dark hair circling his belly button before crawling down beneath the waistband of his lounging pants and melding into the thatch of black pubic hair unexposed at the moment to his critical eye.

He tore his attention away from himself and let his gaze travel about the studio apartment. It was a dump, of course, because a dump was all he could afford. Still, he had made it homey enough, he supposed, what with having Grace for a roommate and all. She loved him, at least.

As if the little gray tabby knew she was being thought about, she tidily licked her paws after consuming her dinner and leaped onto the couch and into Dilly’s lap, where he stroked her soft back until her eyes drooped and her motor kicked in. Contentedly, the two sat enjoying each other’s company while the shadows in the apartment gathered from dusk to full-blown night.

Only when the streetlights outside blinked on, sending a bar of golden light across the ratty carpet, did Dilly ease Grace aside and set about turning on the lights and closing the front drapes. His apartment building was two-story, and since Dilly’s unit was on the ground floor and in the front, all the other tenants had to pass his front window as they came and went. No sense letting a bunch of strangers peek into the only place in the whole wide world Dilly could call his own. This was his sanctuary. This was where Dilly came to regroup and to ponder his pitiful existence.

Unbidden, his mind traveled back to the two young gay men who’d helped him up off the sidewalk after he fell. They had been so handsome together. Leaning their heads together, chuckling at some private joke before Dilly gave them something really hilarious to chuckle about. Boyfriends, obviously, since they had been holding hands before he fell.

Dilly still couldn’t blame them for laughing at him, knowing how ridiculous he must have looked. Yet it would have been nice to have someone to commiserate with when he got home. Someone to show his bumps and scratches to, and let them tsk and coo over his injuries a little bit. Maybe lay a soft kiss to his aching forehead. Someone to pull into his arms, and snuggle, and share his dinner with. And later, to take into his fold-down Murphy bed and cuddle close, whispering gentle words in the darkness as their hands and lips began to explore each other’s familiar warmth.

A surge of lonely desire stuttered through Dilly as he stood in his shuttered room. His cock stiffened beneath the flimsy pants he wore, but he ignored it. He was not in the mood tonight to take matters into his own hands, like he did so many other nights. He was too sad inside to bother.

That realization brought the first smile of the evening. How pathetic was it for a twenty-five-year-old guy to feel too depressed to beat off? It seemed Dilbert Allan Jones really had hit rock bottom.

Dilly’s eyes traveled to the other paper bag he had carried home. He dragged it toward him on the couch and started sifting through the contents. Books, of course. Aside from Grace, books were Dilly’s one true love. And his one true escape. He had made a pretty good haul at the thrift store that afternoon. Four mysteries, two gay romances, an adventure story set in Africa with venomous snakes and curare-tipped blow darts to add to the excitement. He had a recently published biography of Honest Abe, a Sedaris comedy he was looking forward to, and last but not least, a memoir by Bill Bryson—one of his favorite writers—about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Yep. That should keep him occupied for a while.

He lay back on the couch with the Bryson book, waited until Grace was situated on his chest snoozing comfortably, and using her rib cage for a book rest, began to read.

Outside his apartment window, the world slid deeper into night.

And not far away, the one person in the world who was secretly crazy about Dilly, sat at his own lonely window, staring out.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

BOSLEY MAURICE Jenkins, or Boz as he was known to his few acquaintances, sat doubled up in a chair in his one-bedroom cottage, chin on the window sill, gazing out onto the poor end of Fifth Avenue. He cradled a near-empty bag of Oreos in one hand and a sixteen-ounce mug of coffee in the other. He had eaten so many Oreos in the last twenty minutes that when he smiled at his reflection in the window pane before him, he could not see a single one of his teeth. They were thoroughly blacked out with chocolate.

A block away, on Sixth Avenue, the city park began. Twelve hundred acres of open lawns and fountains and trails and biking paths and people. People, people, people. Balboa Park also boasted the San Diego Zoo, the Old Globe Theatre, a doggy park or two, a Frisbee golf course, a panoply of museums and restaurants, a century-old carousel, and a Japanese garden celebrating the friendship between San Diego and her sister city, Yokohama.

Of course, all these tourist traps were a little highbrow for Boz Jenkins. Boz could barely afford rent and groceries, let alone overpriced tickets to the zoo or crepes and sushi in the park’s high-end eating establishments. And as for San Diego’s sister city, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be visiting Yokohama, Japan, anytime soon either. Hell, he could barely afford a trolley ride to Tijuana.

But that was okay. At the moment, he had other matters to concentrate on. One small matter in particular.

Off to the side of his tiny rented cottage, which nestled among a string of other tiny rental cottages, Boz had his eye on a small square of light in the rattletrap apartment building across the street. The light was dimmed because the drapes in the apartment were closed, but still Boz knew exactly which window to focus on. He had, after all, had his eye on the occupant who resided behind that window for quite a while. He sighed now in romantic bliss, thinking about the little dark-haired guy with the thick, black glasses and the sweet face and the penchant for tripping over everything that crossed his path.

Boz sat there on this Thursday evening in his dark, lonely cottage and heaved another sigh. This sigh was a bit less romantic. It was more an unrequited love sort of sigh, and Boz damn well knew it.

Gayness had struck Boz along about the same time as puberty. Unfortunately, shyness and a goodly dose of social anxiety had struck him then too. In spite of being shy, by his twenty-seventh birthday (which had taken place a week earlier) he had spent a few self-absorbed years trashing around. Being a slut isn’t necessarily hindered by social ineptitude. Fellatio and conversation are hardly compatible experiences anyway. It’s hard to partake of one while practicing the other. And as for anal sex, well, that pretty much kills a meaningful conversation on the weather any way you slice it.

But Boz was through with all that sluttiness now. His priorities had shifted. Now he had decided to set his sights on a relationship. And he knew exactly who he wanted to slip into that relationship with. Amazingly, the little guy across the street who fell down a lot was absolutely the man of Boz’s dreams. Boz had been halfass stalking the guy for several weeks, trying to build up the courage to initiate an introduction. Trying to get the proverbial love ball rolling. Boz didn’t know the little guy across the street was gay, of course. He had never seen him cruising the tea rooms in the park or smooching some hunk he was strolling down the street with arm in arm. No, Boz only presumed the guy was gay because his gaydar told him so. And since Boz’s gaydar seldom erred, he accepted his idol’s gayness as a matter of unimpeachable fact and went right on lusting after the guy. That’s what crushes are all about, after all. Lusting.

Physically, they had a few attributes in common, Boz and the little guy across the street. They were both short. They were both sparsely built. They probably weighed about the same, which meant if they ever did begin a relationship they could exchange clothes. You know, in case the laundry hadn’t been done. They were also both dirt poor, judging by their current living conditions, so that would give them something in common to bitch about. Always a necessity in any successful relationship.

Since Boz had never seen the target of his infatuation with anyone else, he could only assume he was a loner like himself. That might make beginning any sort of prospective relationship a bit of a two-edged sword, unfortunately. For instance, if the guy was a committed loner, he might want to stay that way, thus shunning any attempt at a relationship. If he was simply lonely, he might be more accepting of advances. On the other hand, it also probably meant he was just as shy as Boz, and that might make it harder to gain his trust.

But Boz would cross those bridges when he came to them.

Another similarity between the two was that Boz had seen a tiny gray cat sleeping on the little guy’s window sill. And since Boz had a Yorkie named Leon, that meant they were both pet owners. Leon was currently asleep on Boz’s foot. He always fell asleep on Boz’s foot. It was his favorite place to nap, draped across the arch, little head hanging off one side, little butt hanging off the other, little tail idly slapping the floor while he snoozed. And since Leon was pretty old, he napped a lot. Sometimes Boz limped carefully around the apartment with Leon still sleeping on his foot because he didn’t want to disturb the little guy.

Boz wiggled his chin on the window sill while he chewed another Oreo, still gazing dreamily across the street at the square patch of light that denoted the home of Dilbert Jones, the target of his affections. He knew Dilbert’s name because one day when the coast was clear, Boz had sneaked across the street and read his name on the mailbox. Dilbert Allan Jones.

Sigh. Boz thought that was the cutest name ever.

Boz worked as a waiter in an upscale Italian restaurant downtown. The restaurant was a popular yuppie destination, so Boz did okay there tip wise. He made enough to live on at least. He paid his bills on time. Usually. He ate as healthy as he could on a limited budget—well, sort of—and jogged through the park every morning to stay fit. Well, almost every morning. He pined over Dilbert Allan Jones even while he partook of all these other activities, and while on this particular day he had only twelve dollars in his savings account, he didn’t worry too much about finances. As far as worrying goes, matters of the heart—or the libido—always take precedence. That’s why he was sitting at the window sill, stuffing himself with Oreos and coffee and mooning over a draped apartment window three hundred feet away.

Boz had seen Dilbert Allan Jones fall down on the street earlier that day. Boz’s heart had jumped up into his throat, it frightened him so badly. After all, it was the third time Boz had seen Dilbert Jones trip over the same imperfection on the sidewalk. Jesus, the guy really was a klutz. And how cute was that? But Dilbert had been unhurt, apparently, just as he had been on his previous falls. He looked properly humiliated, of course, and he had broken his glasses, darn it, but still he didn’t limp home dragging body parts and spewing blood, so Boz assumed he had survived the fall with a minimum of damage.

Once Dilbert had disappeared into his apartment, after the two gay guys gathered up his belongings and sent him on his way, Boz had slipped across the street and searched the area where Dilbert fell, hoping he might have unintentionally left a belonging or two behind during the turmoil of damn near breaking his neck. If he had, Boz would have delivered the object to Dilbert’s door, knocking politely and handing the belonging over like any good neighbor would, thus wangling himself an introduction to the man of his dreams. But just Boz’s luck, Dilbert had left nothing behind on the street. So another plan would have to be contrived to wangle that long-sought introduction.

Another sigh. Another cookie. Leon’s little feet scraped across Boz’s instep. He was chasing dream bunnies in his sleep.

Boz gazed around his living room and realized for the first time that the sun had sunk behind the city skyline and he was sitting in the dark. He groaned his way upright, heel-walked carefully toward the light switch so he wouldn’t wake Leon, and once the lights were on, limped off into the kitchen to fix himself some dinner.

Heartsore, he stared desultorily into a pan of water while it took its sweet time coming to a boil. When it finally did, he threw in a box of macaroni. With Leon still snoring away on his foot, he watched the macaroni tumble around in the boiling water until the timer went off, then drained the pasta, dumped in the powdered cheese mix, and voila, dinner was served.

He sat at the kitchen table and ate the mac and cheese straight from the pan. While he ate, Boz developed a plan. His heart did a jittery tap dance inside his chest thinking about it, but he was determined.

Tomorrow was the day. Tomorrow he would meet Dilbert Allan Jones.

And come hell or high water, tomorrow he would coax a smile to Dilbert’s sad little face.

He gazed down at his foot and noticed Leon gazing up. His tail was beating a wee tattoo on the floor as he blinked the sleep from his eyes.

Boz smiled down at him while cradling a fresh cup of coffee.

“See, Leon,” Boz crooned while Leon stared up into his face with unmitigated adoration. “I have an ace in the hole that Dilbert Allan Jones doesn’t know about. Something we share, he and I. Something we have so much in common he won’t be able to not fall in love with me.”

Leon tilted his head to the side as if to ask What might that be, pray tell?

Boz just grinned. Then wondering about the lateness of the hour, he tilted his watch toward him so he could check the time and, in the process of doing so, dumped his freshly poured coffee directly into his lap.

That!” Boz hissed, jumping up and plucking at the crotch of his pants where the hot liquid was soaking through faster than he could escape it. “We’re both clumsy, Leon! That’s what we have in common! We’re both frigging dorks!”

Leon didn’t appear inclined to disagree.