JASE WALKED into Schuster’s and sat at the bar. He’d had an especially aggravating day at work, and then he’d had an especially aggravating fight with his ex-wife, Karen, who’d asked him for money again. Only two things could calm him down. He needed to get drunk, and he needed to get laid. The drunk was something that could be acquired locally, at least, so he sat at the bar in Schuster’s and tapped his fingers impatiently.
“Jesus, Jase, calm down,” said Neal from behind the bar. He pulled a beer and set it in front of Jase.
“Sorry, I had a shitty day.” He took a grateful gulp. “Can you get some of your flunkies to take over for you tonight? I just dropped Layla off at Karen’s parents’ house for the weekend, so I’m home free. I was thinking we could take a train down to the city. You can be my wingman.”
Neal raised an eyebrow. “Unfortunately, most of my ‘flunkies’ caught that summer flu thing that’s been going around. It’s just me behind the bar and Angela waiting tables tonight. If I’m lucky, the new guy is coming in at nine, and if that happens, I’m going over to Russ’s because he promised he’d take a look at my car. The engine is making that whirring sound again.”
“So you’d rather spend your night with Russ and your car than with me and the city. A city, by the way, that is full of opportunities for sex.”
Neal took a moment to think about that. “Well… yeah. As fun as being your wingman is, that rarely pans out in my favor. I’ll go watch you find some chick to hook up with while I sit at the bar talking to the bartender about the weather. No, thanks. At least if I stay in town, odds are good my car will get fixed. Then I can drive you to the city myself during your next free weekend. I view that as a net gain.”
Jase rolled his eyes. He took another gulp of beer.
“So I heard some interesting news earlier today,” Neal said, wiping at a stain on the bar with a rag.
“You remember Lowell Fisher?”
Jase blinked. “Sure,” he said, hoping it sounded sufficiently casual. He remembered Lowell, all right. They’d been inseparable as boys, but they’d started to drift apart when Jase got serious about baseball and things between them had gotten a little weird. Then Lowell had to go and become the first openly gay student Greenbriar High had ever known. So yeah, he remembered Lowell Fisher.
Neal gave Jase a long look. “He bought the house next door to yours.”
Jase felt the surprise like a punch in the face. “He did not.”
“Joanie Reickert did the deal. The closing was supposed to go down this afternoon.”
Jase couldn’t figure out how to respond. “That’s interesting.”
Neal snorted. “Interesting. Gee. It’s like a fucking reunion up in here.”
“Speaking of which, Lowell didn’t come to ours, did he? I thought no one had seen or heard from him since graduation. Why the hell is he moving back?”
If Neal heard the tinge of resentment in Jase’s voice, he didn’t let on. “I’m guessing because his father died.”
Neal paused, and Jase frowned. He remembered hearing about that. Neal would, of course, know the bigger story. Jase supposed owning a bar meant you heard everything.
Neal went on, “You remember Old Man Fisher died a couple of months ago?”
“Yeah. Liver disease, right?”
“Yep. Apparently his widow isn’t coping very well, so Lowell moved back to Greenbriar to take care of her.”
“Why not move back into his parents’ house?”
Neal squinted at him. “Weren’t you and Lowell friends as kids? Surely you can guess.”
Jase had heard the rumors. That Old Man Fisher was an alcoholic, that he routinely beat the crap out of both his wife and his son, that Lowell and his father had stopped speaking entirely when Lowell came out. Jase didn’t know how much of it was true. If Lowell was getting beaten up routinely, Jase never saw signs of it when they were kids. Which didn’t mean anything, of course. Lowell could have been good at hiding it. Jase had been an oblivious kid.
“Bad memories in the house, maybe,” Jase said.
“Yeah. Well. Either way, I think business here declined 10 percent when Fisher died.”
Jase waited for Neal to laugh, but when he looked up, Neal had a serious expression on his face instead. Jase nodded.
“You want another?” Neal gestured toward his now-empty glass.
“Nah. I might go to the city anyway. Good luck with the car.”
“Good luck finding a woman willing to take your sorry ass home for the night.”
Jase frowned at Neal. He knew Neal was kidding, but he said, “I just don’t want to spend my Friday night alone on my couch.”
“So hang out with me here. Come with me to Russ’s after. We’ll watch the game or something.”
Jase shook his head. “I don’t know when we became such old men that we worry more about making sure our cars run than going out.”
“Around the same time you had a kid.”
“Ha.” Jase dropped a five on the bar and left.
He drove home and made sure to glance at the for-sale sign in the yard next to his house. It did indeed have a SOLD! sticker on it now that partially obscured a photo of Joanie Reickert’s smiling face. He sat in his car for a long time, just looking at the sign, trying to imagine living next door to Lowell Fisher. He wasn’t sure what Lowell would look like now—if he’d still be as blond as he had been in high school, if he’d still be as skinny, if he’d still smile the same way.
Of all things, Jase did not need Lowell Fisher in his life again.
He made himself get out of the car. On the way to the house, he picked up Layla’s bike and wheeled it inside, not wanting it to rust should it rain. He left it on the tiled area just inside the front door. Then he climbed the stairs up to his room, where he gratefully shed his work clothes. He flipped through things in his closet. He’d definitely go out because, yeah, he wanted to get laid, but more, he couldn’t stand how quiet the house was when Layla wasn’t in it.
He put on a dark T-shirt and a pair of well-fitting jeans, ran a comb through his hair, and stood in front of the mirror, wondering how inconspicuous he looked. Probably it was better if Neal didn’t come with him. Not for what he was planning now.
He opted to drive instead of taking the train, so he got back in his car and got on I-84 going east. The drive into Manhattan took an hour and a half, and traffic was surprisingly light for a Friday night. He also, miraculously, found parking near the East Village bars he tended to frequent. After he parked, he walked a couple of blocks and ducked into one of his favorite pubs. He strolled up to the bar and ordered a Scotch and soda and then turned around to watch what was going on around him.
Jase took in the smorgasbord of beautiful people, mostly men, and leaned back on the bar to observe them. He was content to do that until a blond man caught his eye.
Too young to be Lowell Fisher, but this man bore a close resemblance to the boy Jase remembered. The guy in the bar was tall and thin, his hair artfully disheveled, his pants tight. He raised an eyebrow and gestured toward the back of the bar, so Jase followed.
He walked with the blond guy into a back room. Blond Guy turned around and smiled at him; then he hooked a finger into Jase’s belt loop and pulled him close. Jase smiled. Blond Guy leaned in like he was going to kiss Jase, and Jase put a hand between them. “I don’t kiss,” he said.
Blond Guy shrugged. He moved his hand until he was undoing the button on Jase’s jeans, so Jase reached for Blond Guy’s tight pants and echoed his movements, sliding down the zipper when the guy slid down Jase’s. Reaching into the guy’s pants was almost a relief; getting close enough to smell the other man had Jase hard and wanting.
“What do you do?” Blond Guy asked, his hand on Jase’s cock.