THE FARM wasn’t hard to find, even with Cody’s barely coherent directions, because there was literally nothing else along Brickyard Pond Road for almost two miles. At one time the farm had sprawled across the countryside, keeping its neighbors at bay. Now most of that acreage had reverted back to forest. I’d learned all that from a phone conversation with Cody months ago, when he first bought the place. Back then, he’d described the property as beautiful and peaceful—just what he’d been looking for, after living in Boston for years. But as I pulled into the cul-de-sac in front of the house, those words weren’t the first that came to mind.

The house itself was in decent shape, I supposed, though its gray paint was peeling and the porch sagged a bit on one side. Two of the lower-floor windows were boarded up, and the mesh in the screen door was torn. A bicycle I felt sure must have come with the house lay in a rusted heap on the overgrown front lawn.

Cody was a computer programmer—a private consultant—and he worked from home these days, so he could afford to live off the beaten path. Still, this seemed a bit much.

He must have heard my car pull in, because he stepped out onto the porch as I parked and climbed out of the car. My first sight of him in over a year was disturbing. He was pretty much naked, except for a tattered red flannel bathrobe, which hung open and did nothing to cover a body I’d once salivated over. Now he looked emaciated. I doubted I would have recognized his face at first glance, if I hadn’t known he was the only one living there. He’d always been clean-shaven and had kept his dark brown hair in a short, rather nerdy style reminiscent of a man in a fifties sitcom. Now he was bearded, and his hair was long and unkempt. I suspected he hadn’t bathed in a very long time.

“Marc,” he gasped, staggering down the front steps in his slippers.

I didn’t object when he threw his arms around me, despite the nudity. It was weird for a man who always dressed fastidiously, but even though our relationship had never really gone beyond friendship, we’d slept together a couple of times. And we’d shared a dorm room in college. I’d seen him naked often enough. Harder to ignore was the rather funky body odor. But I embraced him, anyway, disliking how thin and breakable he felt in my arms. Then I stepped back to examine him more closely. He looked pale, and his face was drawn. His gentle brown eyes blinked back tears, as if we hadn’t seen each other in a decade.

“Are you all right?” I asked. He’d told me next to nothing over the phone—just that he needed me, and please, please, please come.

His breath was foul. “Oh, Marc…. You have no idea….”

Then he burst into tears.






I WASN’T expecting much from life to begin with. I wasn’t handsome in the traditional sense. I mean, I wasn’t terminal, but no one would stop on the street to give me a second glance. I wasn’t athletic. I wasn’t fat or too skinny, just average. I didn’t excel at school, didn’t join the basketball team or the swimming team or hell, even the chess team. I sort of faded into the background. I graduated 110th out of 180 students with about a C average. I blended into the background. And I was sort of fine with that.

I dreamed, sure, like everyone. I would imagine holding a microphone onstage and singing to thousands of adoring fans, or being in a recent Hollywood blockbuster, giving my thank-you speech on Oscar night. But truth be told, I was terribly nervous and sort of awkward in large crowds. Or medium crowds. Or, even worse, intimate gatherings where, in my nervousness, I had a tendency to say inappropriate things and tell stories people wouldn’t understand.

Everything about me was simply average. My height, my weight, the length of my penis when I measured it one night in a vain attempt to find something endearing about me. The only thing that made me stand out in any way, at least to myself, was that I was gay. And by “stand out,” I mean in a bad way. I was sort of effeminate. And people in school, mostly the jock types, smelled that on me like a shark smelled blood in the water. I received attention, oh yes, but it was the attention no one really wanted and as a matter of fact, sort of loathed. I wished I could just fade back into the shadows and be as invisible as my other features were.






WALTER CLARK had hoped the sight of the ocean wouldn’t bother him. This was the Pacific, after all, not the same body of water he’d seen tinged red with the blood of his friends and comrades off the Normandy beach. But as soon as he turned south onto the Oregon Coast Highway and saw the vast expanse of roiling gray water, his heart sped and his breathing shallowed. He could hear the blasts of artillery and the screams of the wounded, could smell the metal tang of death mixed with the salt of the sea.

This was a mistake. He should have stayed inland.

Somehow he made it over the high Yaquina Bay Bridge without crashing his old Ford, and he was even able to continue a few miles farther south before his hands shook so violently he could barely control the wheel. Instead of the road before him, he saw red sand, gray landing craft, and green-clad men. When he found himself swerving to avoid an iron hedgehog that had existed six years earlier and five thousand miles away, he pulled to the side of the highway and tried to regain control.

Bitter tears of anger and frustration stung his eyes and ran down his cheeks, but he refused to acknowledge them by wiping them away.

He might have stayed there for hours, but the idling car hiccoughed impatiently. It was a ’37, a relic of prewar days, and although it had conveyed him all the way from Chicago, it could be temperamental. The last thing he wanted was to be stranded here, with the waves pounding like mortar shells so very close by. He carefully pulled back onto the road and drove slowly, like a nearsighted old man, his hands clenched painfully on the wheel.

He had no idea how much time passed before he spied a road leading inland through the trees. A sign said Kiteeshaa. Walter didn’t know what that meant but turned left anyway. Wherever the asphalt led, it was away from the ocean, and that was what he needed.








ADAM BROOKHART was driving home from the little town of Buckman when it happened….





HE’D BEEN visiting his new… well, he wasn’t sure what Shane was at this point. Boyfriend? Could he really be a boyfriend?

Adam mentally rolled his eyes as he drove through the dark.

Nah. Him? With a boyfriend? It was to laugh.

So what was Shane, then?

He had to be honest with himself. It was looking like Shane was more than a roll in the hay. Because Buckman was just over a three-hour drive from Kansas City, and he didn’t even like to drive the fifteen minutes to and from work. That he’d drive three hours to see Shane was saying something.

And a half.

Was it the sex? Surely not. Yes, he’d had a dry stretch for a while there, and his right hand (and even his left) had been getting pretty boring. So another human being was (hopefully) better than self-gratification. But if it was only sex, he could find a guy on Craigslist or E-MaleConnect or Grindr in far less time than it took to drive to hicksville Buckman, Missouri.

And of course there was no telling if a hookup from any of those sites or apps would be worth it—would be good sex—or if the guy who showed up would look (anything) like his picture.

So with Shane he knew he had a good-looking man—very good-looking, in fact. (Sometimes just a glance at the man would start the butterflies in Adam’s belly to whirling. How about that?)—and pretty damned good sex too.

But not the best he’d ever had.

Shane was pretty vanilla, and Adam had had just about every flavor Baskin-Robbins carried—Ben & Jerry’s too—and he liked variety. A lot. Yet while Shane wasn’t Raspberry Sinceri-Tea or Bourbon Brown Butter or Cherry Garcia, Adam had to admit he was very good vanilla. Not the Best Choice or Always Save brands either. Not even Blue Bunny. No. Shane was the seven or eight dollars a pint variety—like you got from Glacé Artisan Ice Cream on Main Street—with the little flecks of real vanilla beans.