LEELAND JEFFERS stood in front of the door to his midtown Atlanta condo, struggling to dig his keys out of the pocket of his khaki slacks while holding on to two bags of groceries, his leather satchel, and the day’s mail, which was tucked tightly under his arm. He somehow managed to unlock the door and get it open just before everything went south and hit the floor with a thud.
“Well, fuck me,” Lee barked, dropping to his knees and trying to stop the vegetables from rolling out into the hallway.
“Anytime, handsome,” a sultry voice said from above.
Lee stared at the tan Gucci loafers adorning feet with no socks and then made his way up the royal blue suede slacks to a muffin top squeezed between the fitted pants and a way-too-tight mesh tank top. Capping this visual journey was the smiling face of Lee’s portly new neighbor, who was leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest. Lee studied the man’s two inches of unbleached hair growth, the platinum blond remainder taking on a dingy yellowish glow from the fluorescent lighting in the hallway. Lee’s first thought was Man, is he in dire need of a touch-up. Followed by, I love the color of your hair, but how do you get your roots so dark?
Lee flashed an insincere smile. “Curt,” he said, continuing to gather his runaway vegetables.
“Dropped your groceries?” Curt asked.
No. I’m just crawling around on the floor picking up tomatoes for the hell of it. Here’s your “stupid” sign.
“Just trying to do too many things at once, is all.”
“Want some help?” Curt asked, bending down, picking up a stray cucumber, and offering it to Lee, but not without caressing it and winking.
Lee quickly took the cucumber out of his neighbor’s hand. Note to self: throw that away.
“No, thanks. I think I have it covered, but I appreciate the offer.”
“It’s all so healthy,” Curt added, ignoring the brush-off and looking down at the array of fresh fruit and vegetables on the floor, then back up to Lee. He smiled seductively. “I guess it’s true when they say you are what you eat.”
Done with this interaction, Lee used his foot to push his satchel and the half-empty grocery bags out of the way enough to clear the door. “I’d love to chat, but as you can see, I have my hands full,” he said and attempted to close the door.
Curt put a foot out at the last minute, preventing the door from closing. “My offer still stands, you know.”
Lee cocked his head to one side. “Come again?”
“I always do,” Curt said, licking his lips.
Trying to keep his cool, Lee ignored the comment and asked, “What offer?”
“To fuck you.”
“Seriously, Curt? Did you bump your head on the way over here? How many times do I have to tell you I don’t sleep with married men? Go home to your husband.”
“Are you sure?” Curt asked. “I just had my sac, crack, and back waxed. I’m as smooth as a baby’s ass.”
Lee’s face automatically scrunched as he pitied the poor soul who’d had to complete that process. “As delightful as that sounds, I think I’ll pass,” he said. “Now please get your foot out of my door before it stays there permanently.”
Curt chuckled and removed his foot. “Maybe another ti—”
Lee slammed the door closed with a thud and sighed. “The nerve of that guy. I’m through being nice to him. Besides, if it is true that you are what you eat, he must be a four-cheese lasagna.”
Lee shoved his groceries back into the paper sacks and carried everything to the kitchen.
He finished putting it all away, tossed the cucumber into the trash can, twisted off the top of a longneck Bud Light, and tuned his stereo to NPR. Then he kicked off his shoes and sat down at his desk to go through his mail. The top piece was junk mail, and he sighed and took the first draw of the cold brew as he tossed the offending missive into the wastebasket. After putting the bills aside, he discarded more junk mail before encountering an ivory-colored envelope addressed to “Master Leeland Jeffers & Guest” in elegant calligraphy. When he flipped the envelope over to see the return address, he smiled warmly. “Well, whataya know. Finally!”
He slid the tip of his Waterford crystal letter opener into the corner of the flap and sliced neatly along the top of the envelope. He sorted through the contents until he found the invitation.
THORSTEN DEREK MICHAELS
INVITE YOU TO THE CELEBRATION
OF THEIR MARRIAGE
ON SATURDAY THE TWENTY-SEVENTH OF JUNE
TWO THOUSAND AND FIFTEEN
AT THREE O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON
THE MONTECRISTO ESTATES AT PUEBLO BONITO, SUNSET BEACH
CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO
After thumbing through the response card, menu selections, and accommodation information, Lee saw a folded piece of paper. He opened it and read a handwritten note.
Please please please say you’ll come.
You’ll love Cabo and it will be a great chance for the “Party Pak” to be together again.
I promise it will be fun.
Lee slowly put everything back in the envelope and tossed it on his desk. He took another sip of his beer, leaned back in his chair, and closed his eyes. The Party Pak. He hadn’t thought about that name in years. His mind drifted back to his days at Berry College in his hometown of Rome, Georgia, and his close-knit group of friends. Once, someone had referred to them as the Party Pak because they were always together and usually having a great time. The name had stuck, and they’d adopted it for the entire four years of college. He wondered if Nan and Tate had received the same invitation.
Nan Martin, now a professional caterer, had been his best friend and the looker in the group. She always reeked of Jungle Gardenia, and her sometimes blonde, sometimes brunette, and sometimes red hair always complemented her beautiful smile. At the same time, her changing hair color gave their group plenty of material for poking fun at her.
She had also loved to cook, hence the catering, and over their four years together made sure all of them had a home-cooked meal at least once a week. Lee thought if it hadn’t been for Nan, they would all have been either severely overweight from fast food, or nothing but skin and bones from living on ramen noodles.
Tate Edwards, Nan’s husband, had been the pleaser in the group. He was ever so practical and the only one the entire group invariably had trouble talking into joining them in whatever stupid prank they had concocted after a night of drinking. In the end, Tate had always come through and gone along with them, but moaned and bitched the entire time, swearing they were all going to jail. He was very handsome in an understated sort of way, with deep-set blue eyes and chiseled features—a very intense look, to say the least. He quickly developed a crush on Nan, and from day one, Tate moved heaven and earth to get her whatever she wanted.
The ringing of his cell phone interrupted Lee’s thoughts. He looked at the caller ID and smiled.
“Good God, Gerty,” Nan screamed through the phone. “You’ll never guess what I just got in the mail.”
Lee chuckled. “Might it possibly be an invitation to Sara-Grace and Derek’s wedding?”
“Oh my God,” Nan squealed with joy. “You got one too.”
“Did yours come with a note from Sara-Grace?”
“Does a fat man fart? Of course it came with a handwritten note. What did yours say?” Nan asked with a great deal of curiosity in her voice.
Lee read Nan his note word for word. “And yours?”
“Pretty much the same,” Nan replied. “So?”
“Are you going?”
“Hell if I know. I just opened the damn invitation ten minutes ago.”
“Leeland Jeffers, I know you like the back of my own hand, and I would bet my life you decided the minute you read that note. So don’t piss on my boots and tell me it’s raining.”
Lee smirked. He loved and hated that Nan knew him so well. Of course he’d decided as soon as he read the note, but he wasn’t going to give it to her that easily. He clammed up and made her wait.
“Well?” Nan finally asked.
Lee sighed. “I’ve always wanted to go to Cabo San Lucas, so yes, I think a trip is in my future.”
“I knew it!”
“Come on, Nan. It’s Mexico. You know how much I love chicken enchiladas with brown men and rice.”
“Tell it,” Nan replied through her laughter. “But seriously, Lee. Have you really thought this through?”
Lee knew what Nan was getting at, but again he was going to make her work for it. “Sure I have. I need some rest and relaxation, and Cabo is just the place.”
“Lee. You know if we both got a personal note in our invitation, the entire Party Pak got the same note. And I mean everyone.”
“What’s your point?” Lee asked.
“You damn well know my point,” Nan said.
Nan’s hesitance was palpable, so Lee finally spoke again. “And besides, it will be fun to get the old gang together.”
“You know the old gang includes Harry,” Nan added. “Seriously, Lee. How long are we gonna dance around this?”
“Dance around what?” Lee asked.
“Fuck,” Nan hissed. “Harry, you idiot!”
Lee chuckled. “Harry and Suzie have as much right as any of us to go to their friends’ wedding.”
“And you’re okay with seeing them—I mean, him—again?”
“I saw them at your wedding, and I’m still standing, aren’t I?”
Nan sighed again but didn’t say anything. Lee figured she’d finally gotten the message. He was determined not to go down that road with her. Not now, anyway.
But in true Nan form, she couldn’t control herself for long. “Dammit, Lee, can’t you be straight with me?”
“Honey, ‘straight’ isn’t in my vocabulary.”
“All right, I’m gonna hang up now, but do you think he’ll show?”
“I don’t care if he shows or not.”
“Call me when you’re ready to be an adult about this,” Nan said in a huff. “Bye, Lee.”
Lee listened to the click as she disconnected the call.
“When hell freezes over,” he whispered as he put the phone on his desk.
OF COURSE Lee had thought about Harry and how he was going to feel seeing him again. At Nan and Tate’s wedding, Lee had still been so angry with Harry he could barely stand to be in the same room with him. But now? The anger had long ago disappeared, and all that was left was an emptiness he’d never been able to fill and the memories of their time together.
Lee sighed and took a pull off his beer. If he were being honest with himself, that part scared him the most.
“Jesus Christ, Lee!” he said, getting to his feet. “Don’t let Nan get you going. Besides, Harry is probably bald with a basketball-sized gut. Who wants that?”
Lee stood and looked at himself in the mirror. He sucked in his stomach and puffed out his chest. “Not bad. You’ve held up pretty damn well. Eat your heart out, Harrison Rhinehart.”
With a sigh, Lee sat back down and forced himself to think about Harry. He’d been the strong and extremely silent type. He was over six feet tall, weighed about two hundred and twenty pounds, and had rugged, masculine good looks. His blond hair and green eyes had Lee mesmerized from the day they’d met, and he’d suffered the biggest crush on Harry for the entire freshman and sophomore years. Lee had loved the fact that Harry was so easygoing. After a mere few drinks, he could easily be talked into doing just about anything.
Lee smiled when he remembered that time in their junior year he’d convinced Harry, for fifty bucks, to paint a big S on his chest with liquid shoe polish and swim across the campus pond wearing nothing but a plastic shower curtain tied around his neck.
From the beginning, Lee had been out and proud, and no one in the group had ever seemed to give it a second thought. But Harry, he’d always been sort of asexual. He gravitated to the ladies the first two years of college, but Lee had never seen him leave with any of them or date one more than a couple of times. On occasion, when it was just the two of them, Harry would quiz Lee about what it was like to be gay or to have sex with a guy. Although Lee thought it odd, he’d never really given it a second thought.
When their junior year ended, Lee’s father had offered them both internships at his law firm. Students couldn’t stay on campus year-round, and Harry couldn’t afford a place of his own, so Lee had invited him to live with his family over that summer. And in the confines of Lee’s bedroom, Harry and Lee had somehow become lovers. And it was Harry who had made the first move.
Lee took the last swig of his beer and tossed the empty bottle into the trash. He walked to the fridge and got another one, twisted the cap off, and walked back to his desk. He realized he’d forced himself to not think about Harry over the years, and for the most part, he’d succeeded, but every now and then, usually when he was beating off in the shower, Harry’s handsome face would pop into his mind. Right at this moment, though, all those old emotions started flooding his memory.
He sat back down, propped his feet up on his desk, and remembered the last real conversation they’d had….
IT WAS early afternoon, just about a month before graduation. Lee and Harry had been secretly sleeping together for the better part of a year. Well, almost secretly. Lee had told Nan, of course. He told Nan everything, and he was sure Nan had shared the information with Tate, although Tate had never broached the subject.
Lee was standing outside the Ford Building, near the reflecting pool, waiting for Harry to meet him. He was looking down and smiling at the exact spot where, just the night before, he’d convinced his moderately drunken boyfriend to engage in his first round of outdoor sex, after a frat party. At the moment the college clock tower had chimed 3:00 a.m., Lee had been balls-to-ass deep inside of Harry, right there on the ledge of the pool for God and all of Berry College to see.
As Lee stared down at the still water in the pool, the realization hit him for the first time that he was in love with Harry Rhinehart and probably had been for a while. But even on the heels of that realization, he had no illusions about a happily ever after. Harry still professed his heterosexuality and, in fact, was seeing Suzie Garrison, one of their classmates.
Over the last six months, knowing their affair was a dead end, Lee had tried to distance himself from Harry a few times, feeling as though he was getting in over his head. But all Harry had to do was smile at him and Lee melted like a cheap candle. After a few more failed attempts to get Harry out of his head, he eventually gave up and accepted his plight.
The quiet was interrupted by an unsteady “Hey.”
Lee heard a tone in Harry’s voice he’d heard before. It usually meant one of those unpleasant conversations was about to take place.
Lee smiled weakly. “What’s up?”
Harry stepped up alongside him, and Lee felt a sudden chill as their shoulders brushed ever so lightly.
“Thanks for meeting me here,” Harry said.
“No problem,” Lee muttered.
Harry cleared his throat. “You looked pretty deep in thought.”
“Oh, just thinking about last night,” Lee confessed.
“Yeah, about that.”
Lee closed his eyes and held his breath. Here it comes.
Over the last year, whenever Harry came to the harsh realization he was sleeping with a guy, which made him, at the very least, bisexual, he would panic, and they would have one of these “Dear John” conversations, with Harry always breaking it off.
After the first breakup, Lee had been devastated. But much to his surprise, one week later an intoxicated Harry had knocked on his door at three o’clock in the morning, professing his love. They’d fucked like rabbits and the entire thing had started up again. After that, the breakups came about every other month but meant nothing to Lee because he knew Harry would be back. He always came back.
Today, however, Lee detected a slightly different note in Harry’s voice, something unrecognizable that made Lee break out in a cold sweat.
Lee took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, and braced himself for whatever Harry was about to say.
His instincts had been right. There was something very different about Harry’s voice. It was the voice of an engaged man.
Lee stood motionless and listened as Harry explained that he’d proposed to Suzie earlier that morning, and they were getting married right away.
THE PAIN Lee had felt that day seemed as real now as the day he’d heard those words. Lee shook the memories out of his head. “This is stupid, Leeland. Why bring all this shit up again?”
Unfortunately, since graduation, life had happened, and he’d had very little contact with any of the old gang except for Nan and Tate, who had married right out of college, settled in a suburb of Atlanta, and were still his best friends.
The last time they’d all been together was at Nan and Tate’s wedding. Harry had been there and had truly seemed happy with Suzie. Throughout the entire event, he and Harry had shared nothing more than a handshake and a few casual words. Lee had caught Harry staring at him a couple of times, but each time he’d tried to make eye contact, Harry had looked away. And that had been that.