Copyright October 29-31, 2005
by Matthew Haldeman-Time
I am writing about men having sex with other men. You must be eighteen or older to read my fiction. This site is for consenting, responsible adults only.
How did he always get roped into these things?
Why couldn’t he just say no? No, as in, no, I don’t want to baby-sit your damned cat. No, I don’t want to help you move into a tenth-floor apartment. No, I don’t want to drive to another state, through miles of road construction, to pick up your obscure relative I’ve never met.
It was Isaiah. He couldn’t say no to Isaiah. They’d been best friends for too many years now, and the guy knew all of his buttons. Which was why, when Isaiah had complimented his haircut and given him a new CD and mentioned that his ex-boyfriend looked like shit lately, he’d been agreeable to anything Isaiah wanted.
And now, he was trapped on the interstate. Locked into traffic, going about three miles an hour through a maze of orange cones. Sweltering under the hot noon sun. His air conditioner was broken and the car’s current rate of speed wasn’t enough to create a breeze. The worst part was, he was about to have to go through all of this again, with Isaiah’s sister’s brother-in-law.
He couldn’t even remember the guy’s name. Ty? Tyler? Tyson? Tyrone? Isaiah’s sister Kim was married to Xavier, and Xavier was opening a new hardware store, and Xavier’s brother Ty-something was coming to town to help out. He was an interior decorator, apparently, although Jackson wasn’t sure how much decorating could be done to a hardware store.
Thanks to the construction-induced traffic delay, Jackson was already over half an hour late. He had no way to contact Ty and explain that he was on his way. He hoped that the guy didn’t feel stranded or forgotten about, but there wasn’t much that Jackson could do about it at the moment.
He saw a sign to the airport coming up on the right. Good. Maybe he’d get there before he sweated himself into a puddle. Grimacing, Jackson wiped sweat from his forehead and pushed back his bangs. Despite Isaiah’s flattery, he’d become convinced that his new haircut sucked. Too short in the back, too long in the front. It wasn’t sexy and youthful, it was unfortunate and misguided. His hair kept falling into his eyes, which was irritating as hell, and the back of his head felt oddly naked.
So… He was sweating, he was frustrated, he was wasting his entire Saturday, and his hair sucked. He couldn’t decide whether to stay pissed at himself, hate Isaiah, or turn all of his resentment onto Ty.
He chose all three.
There had to be another way home. Some other route. Even driving through a series of back roads would be preferable to snaking through more cones, trapped behind another SUV with a truck edging up his ass.
Determined upon any course of action that wouldn’t send him back through the hell he’d just left, Jackson made his way to the arrivals lane. He had no idea what Ty looked like - - he didn’t even know if Ty were Xavier’s older or younger brother - - so he didn’t know how they were going to find each other, assuming that Ty was still waiting outside for him and hadn’t gone back inside or hired a cab.
Maneuvering his way around other vehicles and pedestrians, he pulled up by the curb and put the car in park, stepping out. Absentmindedly pushing his hair back from his forehead, he looked around for any likely suspects.
There were a number of people around, some standing still, some in motion, some ignoring him, some glancing at him. Some of them were white guys who seemed to be alone and looked roughly in the right age bracket, but he didn’t know if any of them were Ty. There was a skinny guy with a bad goatee and one bag, a macho brute in leather, a gorgeous guy in a suit on the phone, a sexy redhead with way too much matching luggage, a cute little skater boy, a jock…
Hell. Jackson sighed, then yelled, “Ty! Ty Albert!” Heads turned, and when the guy with the cell phone glanced in his direction, Jackson hoped for a moment, until-
“My name’s Tyler, sweetie. Tyler. And you don’t need to shout, I’m right here.” Stepping off of the curb in Jackson’s direction, the sexy redhead sashayed towards him, lightly pulling along a wheeled suitcase. Tyler was wearing striped jeans with a too-short T-shirt that showed a nice slice of sleek, lightly tanned abdomen. The hand he offered was free of rings but immaculately manicured. “You must be Jackson.”
This was Xavier’s brother? Xavier had played football in college, always wore scruffy sneakers and the same old baseball cap, and had hands that belonged around a beer can or a hammer. Jackson couldn’t picture Tyler in a ball cap, or even wearing sneakers.
Shaking Tyler’s hand, Jackson remembered his manners. “It’s nice to meet you. Sorry I’m late.”
“Oh, no problem at all,” Tyler said. “It gave me time to freshen up.” He patted his perfectly styled hair and glanced at Jackson’s car. “I hope there’s enough room.”
Tyler had sizzlingly green eyes under well-groomed red eyebrows. He had a sprinkling of freckles across his cheekbones, and his soft, pouted lips were wet with gloss. If they’d met at a club and Jackson had been drunk, Jackson would have taken him home and enjoyed the hell out of him. But at the moment, Jackson was sweaty and irritable and not in the mood to give a crap about anyone. He didn’t want to spend the next few hours trapped in a car with Tyler. He wanted to get a cool drink and go home and take a shower.
Not in the mood for conversation, he popped the trunk.
Too bad for him. Tyler was in a great mood. He couldn’t wait to see Xavier and tackle this new project. He’d never designed the interior of a hardware store before, but already he had a million ideas.
He had been a little put out, waiting out there in the heat like that, wondering if Xavier’s brother-in-law’s friend had forgotten about him. But then that cute little sedan had pulled up, and, oh, out had stepped the man of Tyler’s dreams. Tall and broad-shouldered with a strong jaw and no fashion sense. The way he’d swept back his blond hair and surveyed them all… Tyler shivered, smiling at the memory.
Now they were on the road, and Tyler was pleased at the prospect of spending alone time with his future soul mate. He wished that the setting were a little more pleasant, though. The air conditioner was broken, and he was beginning to sweat, which went against everything he believed in. The stereo was broken, too, so he couldn’t turn on any mood music. Jackson hadn’t responded to any of his forays into conversation, which left them sweating in silence.
Tyler found a sheet of paper in the glove compartment, folded it into an accordion, and fanned himself with it as he gazed out on the passing scenery. There wasn’t much to look at.
He looked at Jackson instead. He wanted to rub into the wide, firm hands gripping the steering wheel. He positively wanted to nuzzle that hard jaw. The silky strands of hair falling into those light blue eyes just begged for the stroke of his fingers. Those strong arms, mmm, what he wouldn’t give to be wrapped up in those.
The T-shirt had to go. Too old, too blah, and orange, what had Jackson been thinking? Those shorts, where did Jackson shop and how could Tyler close the place down? The sneakers, out, good-bye, thanks for playing, maybe five years ago.
The car swung and Tyler saw that they were pulling into a gas station. “Oh, terrific! I’ll run in and get us something to drink.”
“Don’t take too long,” Jackson said, getting out of the car.
Tyler laughed. “Sweetie, I promise you, I shop faster than anyone you know.”
Jackson pumped gas, wondering how the rest of the ride would go. It had only been ten minutes, and already, his vehicle registration had been converted into Tyler’s personal fan. And the guy kept staring at him. He didn’t want to be stared at, especially when he felt frustrated and sweaty and unattractive.
Finished pumping, he looked at the amount due and sighed. Great. And his hands smelled like gas, too. Also great. Scowling, he went into the convenience store. The cool air should have brightened his mood, but it only reminded him of how hot he’d be as soon as he left.
Approaching the counter, he pulled out his wallet. “Pump three.”
“Already taken care of,” the clerk said, and motioned. “He paid for it.”
Frowning, Jackson turned. He didn’t see anyone, but he walked to the back corner where the clerk had gestured. This section of the wall was a row of refrigerators with clear doors displaying cold drinks. There, with his back to Jackson, was Tyler, crouched on the floor in front of an open door, examining the drink selection.
As Tyler reached into the back for something, the gap between his striped jeans and his T-shirt widened. Jackson saw smooth, smooth skin, a sweet hint of ass, and the top edge of Tyler’s underwear.
Not just underwear. A G-string. Tyler was wearing a thong. A skimpy green thong.
Jackson didn’t know anyone who wore thongs. And Tyler wasn’t even on a hot date. Who would wear a thong just for an airplane?
His current view of Tyler’s ass, coupled with the knowledge that under those jeans it was naked for his hands, made Jackson hot in a way that had nothing to do with the weather. “You didn’t have to pay for the gas.”
Tyler sat back, looking up with a smile. “It was my pleasure, sweetie. What would you like to drink?”
“I’ll just have some water,” Jackson said. Tyler looked fresh and cool again, after only a few minutes away from the heat. Jackson, on the other hand, felt like he’d never cool down. Maybe because of the way Tyler was smiling at him, all groomed beauty and bright smiles and soft, wet lips.
“Great.” Tyler rose gracefully, efficiently taking a bottle of water from the refrigerator. “I think I’ll have something…sweet,” he said, pursing his lips briefly as his fingers skimmed hesitantly over a few choices. Selecting a bottle of fruit juice, he sashayed up to the counter, hips swaying, ass twitching.
Jackson wanted to fuck him.
That ass. Damn, Tyler was asking for it.
Walking up behind Tyler, Jackson caught sight of a rack of maps. Picking up one, he flipped through it. Ideally, he could avoid the interstate, the construction, and the traffic, without getting lost.
Handing over a few dollars, he set the map down and discussed possible routes with the clerk, who knew the area better than he did.
“Hmm.” With languid grace, Tyler leaned in right beside him, shoulder to shoulder, and traced a line on the map with one manicured fingernail. “What about taking this road?”
“It’d take a little longer,” the clerk said, “but it’d get you there.”
No way. Jackson didn’t-
“Does it have decent restaurants?” Tyler asked. “I’m starving.”
“Yeah, sure,” the clerk said. “Restaurants, gas stations, hotels, whatever you need.”
“Great.” Tyler straightened, raising the bottle of fruit juice to his lips. Jackson’s gaze went to his mouth, down to his exposed navel, up to his swallowing throat.
The clerk coughed.
Jackson came back to Earth, snatching up the map. “Thanks,” he said without looking, and walked out.
He just wanted to pick up an obscure relative for a friend. He hadn’t enjoyed the drive to the airport, and now he simply wanted to get home. He wasn’t looking for any complications.
And Tyler Albert seemed like one big complication.
Jackson grunted at Tyler’s stab at humor, shrugging and pulling out of the lot. “Just doing a favor for a friend.”
“Isaiah?” Tyler asked.
Jackson glanced at him. “You know him?”
Oh, baby, those blue eyes were so soft and so light, Tyler wanted to know what kind of man had such closed-off posture and such a sweet gaze. “We’ve met. We danced at Xavier and Kim’s wedding.” Tyler couldn’t resist giving Jackson one more once-over. “I don’t recall seeing you there, and I know I’d remember.”
“I was out of town.” Tyler’s eyes were on the road now, his shoulders tense. Every time he opened his mouth, there was resentment in his tone, but this time, it was backed up by a severe dose of “drop the subject, now.”
That just made Tyler want to push for more. “Really? Was it work?”
Jackson turned his head to one side, jerking his chin up fast, cracking his neck. Tyler winced, surprised. “No. It was personal.” His gaze darkened, briefly, in a quick glare at the windshield. “It couldn’t be rescheduled.”
Okay. Tyler absorbed this information, slowly fanning himself. “The wedding was divine,” he said, to buy himself time. Remembering, he smiled. “I decorated the reception hall myself. I was the unofficial wedding planner. Unofficial, meaning, I didn’t get paid a cent for it.” He laughed, deciding to overlook the fact that Jackson didn’t seem amused. “It gave me a good chance to get to know this woman Xavier was marrying. You can learn a lot about someone by which flowers she wants at her wedding and what she’s willing to put her bridesmaids through.”
Well, at least he was pretending to listen. “So, what’s your story, honey? As long as we’re here together, we might as well get to know each other.”
Jackson shot him a look. “I don’t see why.”
Tyler raised his eyebrows, staring at the side of Jackson’s face.
Jackson kept driving.
Tyler sat back in his seat, putting the lid back on his juice bottle.
Jackson’s hands tightened on the wheel.
Tyler refolded the pleats of his fan to make them sharper.
Jackson opened his mouth.
“Yeah, well, fuck you, too,” Tyler muttered, fanning himself anew, looking out his own window.
Jackson couldn’t take it. Tyler had been friendly and had made every effort to get along. It wasn’t Tyler’s fault that Jackson was grumpy and bitter.
Maybe he should apologize. Or attempt conversation.
Hell, was it worth it? Why not just spend the rest of the ride in silence? He could get home, dump Tyler off on Xavier, and forget all about it.
He was probably missing out on a great person, but, long-term, did it make a difference?
Besides, if he did apologize, Tyler might stay pissy and bitchy anyway, and Jackson didn’t need that. It would be better if he just shut up and left things the way they were.
Suddenly, Tyler broke the silence, his tone casual yet warm and inviting. “I sure hope that you can show me around town. I don’t know how long I’ll be staying, because it sounds like Xavier wants me around for more than just the design phase. I’ll need someone to show me a good time, and my definition of a good time has never matched Xavier’s. So, what do you say?” Jackson felt Tyler’s gaze on him, green and bright and curious. “Unless you have a boyfriend who’d object.” A quick bubble of happy laughter. “A lot of boyfriends object to me.”
Tyler was giving him an out. An opportunity to move on and forget the fact that he’d been a jackass. Jackson cleared his throat, awkwardly grabbing at the lifeline. “I could show you where a few places are. But I haven’t been out a lot lately.” He was grateful for the second chance; at the same time, he wasn’t eager to commit himself to escorting Tyler to every club in town.
“I bet you and I would have a great time together,” Tyler said. “Do you like to dance?”
Maybe silence had been preferable. “I’m a terrible dancer.” Jackson took a deep breath, giving Tyler a quick glance. God, he was sexy. “Look, I’m not - - I’m not dating right now. Isaiah knows a lot of people, he can hook you up with anyone you want.”
Tyler’s voice was soft. “Who took you off of the market?”
“Nobody.” Damn it, he didn’t need this. “I took myself off.”
“Baby,” Tyler’s hand rubbed over his upper arm, “somebody hurt you, and-”
“Would you-” Jackson pushed Tyler’s hand away, accelerating. “I’m fine. I don’t want to talk about it, and it’s none of your business, and if you don’t drop it, I’ll leave your ass on the side of the road and you can hitch your way home.”
Tyler snorted. “Honey, I don’t know if you’ve taken a good look at my ass, but it’s not the kind of merchandise you leave by the side of the road.”
Jackson didn’t know whether to laugh or curse. He was pissed off, he was furious that Tyler would get right up in the middle of his personal business like that, but Tyler had a point, a good point, a funny point, and he loved the way Tyler had said it, like it was obvious and true. Tyler seemed like someone who placed a lot of value on himself, and Jackson admired it.
“Bad break-up?” Tyler asked, when Jackson didn’t say anything.
That was one way to put it. “Yeah.” Jackson realized that he was speeding too much, and backed off of the gas a little.
“That’s too bad.” Tyler fanned himself. “I don’t do guys on the rebound and I don’t give pity fucks. I guess you and I will just have to be friends.”
Taken aback, Jackson looked at him.
Tyler gazed out at the road ahead. “Maybe we should stop for lunch in another couple of miles.” He turned his head, flashed Jackson a smile. “My treat.”
His first instinct was to say no, to race home, to spend as little time as possible alone with Tyler. Because he wanted Tyler, and his body responded to Tyler, and the more he got to know Tyler the more he liked Tyler. And that was a bad thing.
But Tyler had just drawn a new boundary line between them. Securely on the other side of that line, Jackson felt a little safer. So he risked saying, “Okay. Let me know if you see something good.”
Shifting comfortably in his seat, Tyler said, “I don’t think that you ever told me what you do for a living.”
Small talk. Regular conversation. That was fine. Jackson relaxed, incrementally. “I’m a manager at a call center.”
“Telemarketing?” Tyler asked, curious.
“Yeah.” Jackson braced himself for the shitstorm.
“That must be one of the hardest jobs. I couldn’t take it.” Tyler shuddered prettily. “More power to you.”
Surprised by the supportive response, Jackson recovered quickly. “I don’t actually make the calls, anymore.”
“You must have been glad to leave that behind you,” Tyler said.
“Yeah,” Jackson said. Tyler’s conversation kept taking turns he hadn’t been ready for, and he wasn’t sure why small talk caught him off-guard. He didn’t usually have this problem; it had to be Tyler. “I was.”
“Good for you, getting the promotion.”
“Thanks.” Jackson hadn’t expected to be congratulated. The promotion had been a big deal to him, at the time, but the news of it had been overshadowed by less fortunate events in his personal life.
“Sometimes I envy the security of a steady job,” Tyler said. “I am my company, so if business is bad, it’s bread crusts for dinner.”
Jackson took his eyes from the road to glance at Tyler. “What about when business is good?”
Easy laughter. “I buy myself the first guilty pleasure I can get my hands on.” A brief giggle. “The last one squirmed a lot before I explained how much I was willing to pay.”
Jackson laughed, startled.
“Don’t you believe that for a second,” Tyler said, unscrewing the cap on his juice. “One good look at me and you’ll know I’ve never had to pay for it.” A slow sip. “Although sometimes they do pay me.”
Tyler was a flirt, and he’d admit it freely. He’d been born a flirt, and he’d die one. He smiled at Jackson, winked, laughed, and touched. His toes might have brushed Jackson’s calf beneath the table once or twice. It was just his way of loosening people up.
It worked, too. By the end of the lunch, all of the tension in Jackson’s body had disappeared and the resentment in his voice was gone, too. He was open, talking and sharing and laughing like they were old friends.
Tyler enjoyed making new friends. He’d hoped to make a little more out of Jackson than that, but it was way too early. Jackson had been burned, burned badly, and wasn’t at all ready for the kind of relationship that Tyler required.
It was a real shame, too. Because…damn… Jackson was just his type, inside and out. Tyler didn’t want to let this one go.
When the waitress brought the check and left, Tyler said, “Don’t you touch that. I’ll take care of it.”
“You paid for the gas,” Jackson said. “I can cover this.”
“No, no, I’ll-” Tyler slapped Jackson’s hand away, snatching up the bill “-get it.”
“Okay,” Jackson said, sitting back with an amused, enchanting smile. “But you have to let me get dessert.”
“Dessert?” Intrigued, Tyler was tempted to smile back. “I like dessert.”
“I thought you would.”
“Well, then, you just take care of that,” Tyler said, rising from the table, “and I’ll take care of this.” Resisting fantasies of licking chocolate mousse from Jackson’s fingers or…other interesting body parts…Tyler approached the cash register in the front of the diner. He didn’t carry a wallet because it would have ruined the line of his pants, so he kept necessary items tucked discreetly into his pockets. Pulling a few bills from one pocket to pay for dinner, his fingers brushed his lip gloss. Licking his lips, he could tell that he’d eaten off the gloss he’d applied earlier, and he wondered what the wind from the open car windows had done to his hair.
As soon as he had his change, he went to the restroom. After taking a quick leak, he washed his hands and looked into the mirror.
Thank heavens there wasn’t any food in his teeth, but, oh, his hair… Why hadn’t anyone told him? He didn’t have any gel or even a comb with him, but maybe he could coax it into behaving. It wasn’t long enough to curl, but it had grown out into waves, and it always wanted to resist staying where he put it.
Better. Not what he wanted, but something he could live with. Tyler uncapped his lip gloss.
“Hey.” The door opened; Jackson came in. “Dessert’s waiting for us at the front.”
“Great.” Leaning forward into the mirror, Tyler swept a soft shine over his lips. “What’d you get?” Was that a - - damn it, if he got a zit… Realizing that Jackson hadn’t answered his question, Tyler glanced at Jackson’s reflection, and, oh.
Jackson was staring at his ass. Eyeing it, like that lunch they’d just eaten hadn’t quite filled Jackson up.
Swallowing, Tyler recapped his gloss, turning to put his ass to the sink and out of Jackson’s direct line of sight. “It shouldn’t be much longer until we get to Jamesburg.”
“An hour or so.” Jackson’s gaze was on Tyler’s stomach.
Tyler tugged his shirt down and hitched his jeans up as naturally as he could, futilely attempting to cover the brief expanse of skin. “Then we’d better get going,” he said cheerfully.
“Yeah.” Jackson’s gaze lingered.
Tyler’s heart beat too fast. He knew that he should head for the door, but Jackson’s desire had him trapped. He wanted Jackson to want him, and he wanted Jackson to act on that impulse, but at the same time, he knew that it wouldn’t work. Jackson needed a long-term healing process, and Tyler had no interest in being the quick lay that got Jackson on that road.
The light at the end of that road, yes.
Jackson moved, and Tyler instantly felt relieved. But instead of moving towards the door, Jackson moved towards him, closing the distance between their bodies until only an inch remained.
Tyler took a deep, even breath. “Jack-”
Jackson kissed him.
“Wait,” Tyler gasped, breaking their kiss. Tyler turned his head aside and Jackson’s lips brushed over Tyler’s cheek instead, as eager fingers eased down the back of Tyler’s pants and curled around the slim strip of fabric that passed as the waistband of Tyler’s thong.
Jackson didn’t want to wait. Denied Tyler’s mouth, he kissed the smooth silk of Tyler’s neck instead, sucking gently as his right hand rubbed slowly up and down Tyler’s side. Unwilling to back away, he kept Tyler trapped between his body and the sink, his thickening arousal pressed to Tyler, the hardness of Tyler’s erection growing ever more noticeable even as Tyler panted, “No, Jackson, wait.”
He’d been waiting for too damned long; he wasn’t waiting another minute. Sliding his hand up Tyler’s chest, right under Tyler’s T-shirt and over hot, taut skin, he ground his hips against Tyler’s a little, just to make himself harder, just to make himself groan. “Tyler,” he moaned, tugging unconsciously at Tyler’s underwear, kissing up towards Tyler’s ear and rubbing his thumb over one hard, little nipple.
“Jackson,” Tyler whispered, shuddering in his arms, finding his mouth for a fast, wet kiss. “I can’t…”
Tyler’s kiss was urgent. His lip gloss tasted like cherries, and his hands were eager as they clutched at Jackson’s arms. He was making some muted, troubled no-type noises, but he was making a lot of hot, needy yes-noises, too, and those were louder.
The sound of Tyler wanting him, responding to him, made Jackson groan, rocking hardness to hardness, kissing deeper and stroking down to Tyler’s fly.
“Wait, wait, no.” Panting, Tyler pushed him away, putting some muscle into it to force him back.
Jackson heard himself make an angry, animal noise once he realized that he was being denied access to what he wanted. The sight of Tyler only made him want more. Tyler was mussed and sexual, heat coloring his cheeks, chest rising and falling quickly under a rucked-up T-shirt, erection straining against jeans that rode low on his hips to expose teasing hints of his G-string.
Avoiding eye contact, Tyler smoothed his shirt with trembling hands. He cleared his throat and licked his smeared lip gloss.
It tasted like cherries. Jackson wanted that taste again. Wanted to taste those soft, red lips. Wanted to taste-
“I’d love to give you what you want, honey, but that wouldn’t be good for either one of us.” Tyler finally met his eyes. “You’re still getting over somebody else.”
“This isn’t about him.” This was about Tyler. About red hair and green eyes. About the way Tyler dressed and the way Tyler flirted. About Tyler paying for the gas and paying for the dinner and letting him pay for the dessert. About Tyler fanning himself with Jackson’s vehicle registration and filling Jackson’s car with designer luggage, filling Jackson’s car with emotional chaos and sexual tension. About how easily and how often Tyler laughed. About how on the way to the airport, Jackson had wanted nothing more than to go home; and now, Jackson wanted this drive to last forever.
“I don’t even know who he is.” Tyler’s voice was sympathetic, but respectful. “Maybe if you told me about him, I’d have a better idea of what’s about him and what isn’t.”
“No rush,” Tyler said quietly, like it was a casual thing, and opened the Styrofoam carton from the diner. “This looks delicious. Do you mind-”
“Go ahead.” He wanted to see Tyler enjoy himself. “There’s a fork in the glove compartment.”
“Do you want some?” Tyler asked, finding the plastic fork and unwrapping it, giving Jackson an encouraging look.
“No, that’s okay. I got it for you.”
“Aren’t you just the sweetest,” Tyler said.
Jackson watched Tyler eat. He liked to watch Tyler eat. He liked to observe any activities that made Tyler happy and all activities involving Tyler’s mouth, so watching Tyler devour cherry cobbler quickly hit his top ten list. Especially since it made Tyler moan, softly and delightedly. And because it involved a lot of lip-licking and fork-licking. He wondered if Tyler had an oral fixation. He wondered if he had an oral fixation. He wondered if he had a Tyler fixation.
That tongue… Soft, pink, agile. Flicking out over the tines of the fork. Fundamentally sexual.
“What’s his name?” Tyler asked, like they were mid-conversation, without bothering to look at him.
Somehow, that made it easier. “Casey.”
“Casey,” Tyler repeated, nodding. Lip-licking. “How long were you together?”
Tyler stared at him, shocked. “I won’t even admit that I’ve been out of high school for seven years. Seven - - honey, what happened?!”
Jackson shrugged. Now, for some reason, it was easier to continue to look at Tyler than it would have been to look away. Why was it that whatever Tyler did made things better? “A lot of things happened. I wanted too much sex. I wasn’t ambitious enough. I wasn’t clean enough. I didn’t have the right friends. I wasn’t motivated. I wasn’t interesting. He kept fucking around on me and I kept pretending that it was okay. I didn’t wear the right clothes. I didn’t eat the right food. I didn’t drive the right car. The last fight we had, the day we broke up, we fought over toothpaste. I didn’t buy the right kind.” It seemed ridiculous now. Obvious and stupid and petty and ridiculous, and why the fuck had he stayed for seven years, and how close had he come to staying for seven more? “He told me to get out and I did. I left. I wrote ‘fuck you’ in toothpaste on his windshield, and I left.”
Cobbler finished, Tyler set the carton aside, turning in his seat to face Jackson more directly, drawing up one knee. “Are you still in love with him?”
He’d gone over that a lot, lately. “No. I’m angry.” It wasn’t simple to admit. “I want my time back. I feel like I wasted seven good years of my life on that fucking-” Jackson swallowed the rest of his words. Took a moment. Tried again. “I’m angry.”
Tyler’s gaze was soft, his voice empathetic. “How long ago did you break up?”
“Nine months ago. I spent one month cursing and crying, and then I spent two months fucking everything that moved, and I spent the last six months not really enjoying my life but not knowing what to do about it.” There hadn’t been much point in getting excited about life. There hadn’t been anything in his life to get excited about, from his perspective.
Tyler had shifted his perspective.
Brought in a little excitement.
Tyler was happy. Enthusiastic. About everything in general and a few things in particular.
Jackson wanted to be one of those few things.
“I want to help you,” Tyler said. “I’d love to help you get through this.” His tone gentled. “As a friend.” The smallest of smiles quirked his lips. “A friend you don’t have sex with.”
Jackson put his hand over Tyler’s, on Tyler’s knee. “You don’t know how long you’re staying.”
“No, I don’t,” Tyler admitted. His fingers slid through Jackson’s, slowly, and Jackson’s toes curled of their own volition. “I’m sure that Xavier would let me find a million excuses to stay as long as I want.”
“You want to be friends,” Jackson said, gazing at him, wondering. Wanting.
That was never going to work. “We can be friends,” Jackson said. “As long as you don’t fuck anyone else.”
Tyler’s head tilted to one side. “That’s not exactly fair. Especially since I’m going to encourage you to get out there and date around.”
“Too bad.” Jackson’s other hand rose; he brushed a thumb across the scattering of freckles gracing Tyler’s cheekbone.
“I’m not going to promise a vow of celibacy to someone I met an hour ago,” Tyler said.
“Two hours ago.”
Tyler smiled. “Oh, well, that makes all of the difference in the world.”
“Good.” Jackson wanted to make love to him. Jackson hadn’t wanted to make love to anyone since Casey. Fuck, yes, screw, yes, nail, yes, but not make love. But sitting there, gazing at Tyler, imagining a soft bed and slow undressing…
“We’d better get moving,” Tyler said. “They’re going to wonder what’s happened to us.”
A lot of things had happened to them. A lot of things had happened to Jackson, anyway. He’d met Tyler, and Tyler had been the first person to break through his walls in months, and now he felt hope and peace and interest and anticipation for the first time in a long, long time.
He wondered if a lot of things had happened to Tyler, too.
Tyler flipped down his sun visor. As he checked his reflection in the mirror on the underside, he patted his hair with one manicured hand, talking mostly to himself. “A claustrophobic airplane and now this sweaty car ride and my hair’s a mess and today’s the day I meet the man of my dreams? If I’d known that, I would have worn a completely different outfit. I can’t believe that I fell in love while I was wearing jeans. I didn’t even pack my lucky purple thong. Lord, I’m getting a zit, I knew it. No one should fall in love and get a zit on the same day, it just shouldn’t be done.”
Jackson smiled. He’d take that as a yes.