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Fleeting Eternity

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  • Fleeting Eternity

    Summary: This story is about the power of legacy. It's about a man who burns so bright that no one he encounters will ever forget him. Be warned that this is an emotional story.
    Rating: Mature (erotica)
    Content Warnings: Graphic sex between consenting adults depicted
    Story Status: Series posting
    Update Schedule: This work will update once every week until it is completed
    Thorn Wilde
    Second Scribe in Command
    Thorn Wilde
    Story Notes: Feel free to comment on the work, please. Thanks for taking the time to do so

    Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: Coffee
    Chapter 2: Just for Fun
    Chapter 3: Indifference
    Chapter 4: Absolution
    Scribe in Command
    Last edited by Wgray; 09-16-2020, 07:57 PM.

  • #2
    Chapter 1: Coffee

    Nate noticed the pair almost immediately. The woman and man came in from the wet and cool weather, and then they approached the counter of the coffee shop. All the while, Nate surreptitiously watched them.

    "What do you want to eat, Tad?" The raven-haired woman gave her full attention to the man beside her. She motioned toward the menu. "Whatever you want. I'm buying."

    "I'm not hungry," the fellow said and he wiped his hands on his jacket. He wore a knit cap pulled down so that it completely covered his hair. The dark blue of the headgear contrasted against his pale skin, and he shivered once as he stood there. "I just want coffee."

    It was cold and rainy out, as was typical for the northern California coast in the winter. Though it was just past ten a.m., the gloomy sky meant the coffee shop was an oasis of warmth and light in an otherwise muted and gray world.

    "Tad, that's not gonna cut it." Her tone gave Nate the impression that she was used to being obeyed. She patted his shoulder, then her voice softened until it was almost a plea. "Come on, pick something."

    Tad sighed. "Fine, you win." He looked back up at the menu above the register. "I guess I'll take a bagel with cream cheese along with the coffee." The woman quickly gave the order to the friendly barista behind the worn, wooden counter.

    Nate sipped his own latte and went back to his laptop. He was, by any measure, a science geek, and he was in the middle of an interesting article on the ecology of microbes that thrive in oil spills. Drinking coffee, reading, and lounging around the coffee shop were a part of the Saturday ritual for him. He knew most of the regulars on sight, and these two were interesting, simply because they were new to him.

    A few minutes passed and the sound of chairs scraped on the wooden floor. That brought Nate's head up again. The couple chose a table nearby, and they had drinks in hand, along with bagels on colorful ceramic plates. The man, Tad, glanced at Nate, and their eyes met for a moment.

    It was a fleeting thing, but Nate saw him straight on and took a breath. 'Whoa, you're cute.' Even with the cap the man still wore, Nate could see how handsome the fellow was. Nate gave Tad a little smile and a nod of his head.

    The man nodded back, then he settled across from the woman accompanying him. Her back was to Nate, while Tad sat so that Nate could continue to see his face.

    Nate forced his eyes down, back to his computer screen. 'They're probably a couple. They seem close.' Both were in their mid to late twenties, and she was easily as beautiful as her companion was handsome. Nate wasn't exactly a bad-looking guy himself. His very red hair, freckles, and deep blue eyes caught attention wherever he went, and he was a little disappointed that he'd not get to try his charms on this Tad fellow.

    He tried to refocus on his computer.

    "So. What's the plan, Tad?"

    Nate was happy that he could overhear her, even though she spoke relatively quietly.

    The man shrugged. "I'm still processing. I mean, I knew it'd be tough on him, but I guess I didn't expect him to leave." He took a shaky breath. "Now that I have had a chance to think about it, I don't know why I expected him to stay." Tad looked down at the coffee between his hands as it steamed. "I probably would have left too."

    The woman made an indignant noise. "You would not! And I swear if I see that prick again …"

    "Shhh," Tad glanced past her at Nate, and his gaze narrowed when their eyes met.

    Nate bit his lip and looked back down at his computer. 'Damn it. He caught me being nosy.'

    Nate kept his eyes down, and Tad finally continued, "Well, I really don't need you fighting with Christopher, Miranda. I mean, he's hurting too. I'm worried about him."

    "You're worried about him?!" Miranda shook her head and her long hair moved from the motion. "Tad, you have enough to worry about." She reached across the table and she lay a gentle hand on his. "I'm sorry he's gone, I liked him – a lot." She made a face. "I mean, I was even willing to help you guys out. But maybe it's for the best." She shook her head. "Though, I worry about you being in your apartment alone now."

    Though he continued to look away, Nate listened intently to the conversation. 'He's gay, and his lover left him? Why is she so worried about Tad?' Nate frowned to himself. 'I wonder what happened.' He risked a glance up and admired the handsome face of Tad while he spoke to Miranda. 'This Christopher guy would have to be crazy to leave that!'

    They leaned in, and their voices dropped to a near-whisper. Additionally, more people entered the place. Soon, their conversation was lost to Nate - just one set of voices among a dozen others.

    Over the next half-hour, he continued to check on them periodically. Almost every time, Tad's eyes would move from Miranda's face to Nate's. Nate didn't precisely stare, but it was apparent to anybody paying attention that he at least had a passing interest in Miranda's and Tad's table.

    Eventually, they finished their coffees, and they stood. "Tad," Miranda's voice was disappointed, "you didn't finish your food. You barely touched it."

    The man shrugged into his coat, and he still wore his knit cap. The cap had never been removed, even though the temperature inside the cafe was comfortably warm. "Well, to be fair, I did tell you I wasn't hungry." Tad grinned at her. "Awww. Don't make that face." He embraced the woman and closed his eyes while they each held on. "Don't worry, sis. I'm going to take care of myself. I'll let you know if I need anything."

    Nate got an impression of a quiet, pained dignity around everything Tad did. And now he knew how the pair were connected. 'Ah, his sister.' He felt a little stab of relief at that revelation. 'He's here commiserating about getting dumped with his sister.' Nate knew he shouldn't be glad, but there was happiness at knowing Tad was now a free man.

    "You'd better." Miranda pushed back with a stern, yet loving look at her brother.

    They carried their dishes and trash over to the garbage station. They cleared their plates, then the items went into the bins for the dirty dishware. Miranda led the way out of the cafe, past Nate's table, while Tad walked a short distance behind her.

    They got to the door. Miranda exited, and Tad followed. Nate watched his back as he did. Then, Tad turned to look over his shoulder, and the men locked eyes.

    This time Nate didn't look away. Instead, he stared back, and he smiled.

    The faintest flicker of a tired, amused expression twitched on Tad's face, but it quickly disappeared. Then he turned and left the cafe.

    Nate watched the door for a while, lost in thought and imagination. Then, finally, he pushed his fantasies aside and went back to learning about those oil-eating bacteria on his computer.
    ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

    Tad waved goodbye as his sister pulled away from the curb. It was still early, and it remained a cool, clammy day. He was bundled up against the chill, though he was still cold. He shivered as he walked up the steps to the portion of the home he rented in the little town of Eureka, California. His place was an old, renovated Victorian house, split up into four different apartments. His was up a short flight of stairs, on the first floor, while the upstairs apartments continued on up the stairwell.

    Unlocking the door, Tad entered. As he shut the door, a sleek, black cat padded down the hallway and greeted him with a loud, emphatic, "Mrrow!" She twined around his legs as he smiled fondly down at her.

    "Oh, did you miss me, little miss Kali?" Tad peeled off his outer layer and hung his coat beside the door. Then he scooped her up, and she immediately began to purr in his arms. He knew he only had a few moments to enjoy her this way. She wouldn't tolerate being held long. Tad petted and stroked her for as long as she would stand, then put her down. She continued to follow him into the house, meowing all the while, and he smirked. "Yes, I know what you want."

    Tad got her small ceramic bowl, and he filled it half-way with kibble from a bag on top of the fridge. He and Christopher had already come home once to a hole torn through the side of the cat food bag when they first picked Kali up from the shelter. So, now, he stored the bag up high where she couldn't reach it.

    Kali was still young - she was only a bit over a year old now. He and Christopher had picked her out together some months back. As he set the bowl on the floor next to the stove where she could reach it, he sighed as he thought about his ex-boyfriend.

    "Sorry your other daddy left, Kali." He squatted next to her and stroked her as she ate. Her back arched up into his touch as his hand slid over her, but she never stopped eating the kibble.

    Tad had truly believed that Christopher was the one - his forever after. And he had been until everything changed a couple of months ago.

    He could feel himself begin to spiral down into that rabbit hole of memory and pain. He set his jaw, and stood up. "No. Don't do this. Don't waste time this way." Tad looked at his computer which sat on a compact, gray wooden desk. Christopher had built it specifically for Tad to use for his art, and there were all sorts of little drawers and moveable wooden leaves he could set things upon. 'Do something you like. Do something that will help you to forget for a while.'

    He walked over and sat at the desk. The computer was a recent gift from his sister, and it was near the top of the line when it came to the two-in-one laptop/tablets. It was an artist's dream. The machine boasted a sensitive and responsive stylus along with a fantastic touchscreen and a great drawing program. Tad had started drawing a comic a couple of years ago on a less sophisticated computer, and he had imported all of his work as soon as he got the new one.

    Tad was creative, and he had found his outlet through drawing. At first, he had never intended to share the work with anyone. It was simply something he did for his own amusement. Although he was normally quiet, Christopher had been so encouraging concerning Tad's art.

    He picked up the stylus and started the computer. The screen came to life, and Tad twirled the stylus in his fingertips. He looked over the latest panels he had drawn, and smiled at the men depicted there. "Well, at least you guys are still together and happy." His smile slowly faded and he felt his throat tighten with emotion.

    He hadn't allowed himself to mourn the loss of his relationship all that much. He had moments, but most of the time he kept those emotions bottled up. He felt they were a waste of his time, and that he really should focus on the good things which remained in his life.

    It had been a couple of weeks since Christopher left. And Tad had only just let his sister know. She could be very protective, and he didn't want her to worry. Though the topic was Christopher, the trip to the coffee shop was still a nice distraction. Tad could pretend that he wasn't going through the biggest crisis of his life and that he was just having a normal day like everybody else. And the good-looking redhead who kept eyeing him at the coffee shop made Tad feel better about himself. Even if there was nothing that could come from that interaction, it still made him feel good. But now, these quiet moments were the times he couldn't ignore the loss.

    Tad bit his lip and tears streaked down his face. He swallowed and shook his head. Then he laughed at himself, a sorrowful sound, and wiped the tears off of his cheeks. He made a noise of surprise when a little black shape jumped up into his lap.

    "Mrrrow!" Kali headbutted his chin, and he laughed. This time it was a real one.

    "Oh, Kali." He put the stylus down and petted her with both hands. "I'm fine, baby." He scratched the insistent little feline and she purred in his lap.

    He had long ago learned to work around a squirming, furry body. He positioned the computer on the desk, and one hand continued to stroke Kali, while the other picked up the stylus. "Okay. Let's see what kind of magic we can make."
    ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

    The apartment was a place Chris knew well, as he had spent the better part of two years there with Tad. He looked up at the window from the street, and at the light which burned behind the curtains. Now and again, he'd see Tad's shadow move past the window, back and forth as the man went about his life.

    Working his jaw, he swallowed as he stared up. He'd been in his truck for the last half-hour, and though he knew it was odd, he couldn't quite help himself from spying. He had to at least check, and see Tad himself, even if it was from the street.

    "I miss you," he whispered into the stillness of his vehicle. He shook his head slightly. "I'm sorry. I wish I could be what you need me to be, and I'm so sorry but I just can't." Chris sighed. Then he started the vehicle. He took one last look up at the window.

    A little black cat appeared, and she looked directly down at the truck from her perch on the internal windowsill.

    Christopher's face shifted, and he almost smiled. "Hi, monster. How's my little goddess of destruction?" He watched as Kali meowed. She was always very affectionate toward him, and he knew that she recognized the sound of his truck. "Ah, okay. I'd better go before Tad tries to figure out why you're crying."

    Grudgingly, he put the automobile into gear. Christopher drove away from the only man he had ever loved, and the only place where he had ever truly felt at home.
    ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

    Tad draws experiences which make an impression on him

    The week passed quickly for Nate. It was late January, and the bookstore had been surprisingly busy. He even got a bit of overtime, and he worked through the closing shift on Friday. Though now, it was Saturday morning, and he smiled to himself as he approached his favorite coffee shop in Old Town Eureka.

    He entered the old brick building and inhaled the scent of coffee, pastry, and chocolate. Then he walked up to the counter.

    He stood there, patiently in line. He had arrived at the shop a bit later than was typical and that meant a line. 'As long as I can find a seat.' He looked around, and frowned slightly. The place was busy and most tables were full. Still, the shop was split by a wall and he could try his luck in the other room.

    It was finally his turn at the counter and Nate gave his order to the barista. He paid, then walked over to stick his head into the adjoining room.

    'Oh, well hello.' The very first thing Nate saw was that navy blue knit cap. That same man, Tad, sat at a table. This time he was alone, and it looked as if he were drawing or writing on a tablet - he held a stylus, and it moved in sure, precise strokes over the surface of the gadget.

    "Latte and breakfast bagel for Nate!" He jerked when he heard his name, and turned toward the counter. Nate retrieved his drink and breakfast, then stepped back to the entrance of the other room. He looked at Tad who still worked on his tablet. Then he scanned the room. There were no free tables.

    Nate bit his lip, then he shrugged. 'Well, fortune favors the bold.' He straightened his spine and strode confidently toward the solitary man.

    Stopping a step away, he cleared his throat. "Ah, excuse me? Would you mind sharing your table?"

    Tad looked up at Nate, and a little moment of pleasant surprise brought a smile to Tad's face. "No, I don't mind." As Nate pulled out the chair, Tad stuck out his hand. "I'm Tad."

    Nate grinned. He put down his drink then shook Tad's hand. "Nate. Nice to meet you." Now that he was able to get a better view of Tad, Nate felt a definite attraction to him. Tad's eyes were like dark pools, yet they caught the light in the room, and they seemed to be living things all on their own. His skin was as porcelain - pale and smooth, and there wasn't a single whisker anywhere to be seen. He had a narrow face and high cheekbones. He looked for all the world as if he had stepped off the pages of a magazine; one, perhaps, which tried to get the reader to purchase the ever-present knit cap on his head. Though that cap was a little out of place because Tad was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, while a jacket hung from the back of the chair.

    Nate forced himself to release his hand and cleared his throat as he took his seat. "Ah, thanks for sharing." He looked around at the busy space. "I'm usually earlier. It's easier to find a spot when it's only eight in the morning."

    Tad still wore a slight smile. "You're welcome, and I would imagine that's the case." Tad's dark eyes glanced over the room. "I got here at seven, so it was easy enough to get a table. I've not come here much." Then he turned his gaze back to Nate. "But the last time I did it was pleasant enough."

    Nate wasn't quite sure if Tad was flirting with him or not. The way he said the words, and the expression on Tad's face made it hard for him to know. 'Time will tell.' Nate gave him a smile of his own. "Well, it's a nice spot. Good coffee. And they serve great breakfast bagels." Nate motioned at his own plate which had the bagel with egg and pepper jack cheese. "You ever had one?"

    Tad looked passively at the bagel. "No. I can't say I have." He shrugged. "I guess I'm not a big breakfast guy."

    "You're missing out." Nate nodded at the tablet that lay in front of Tad. "Sorry. I'll not keep you any longer from your work." He picked up his bagel and took a bite of the savory, chewy sandwich.

    "Thanks, but it's not work. This is all pleasure." Tad picked up the tablet, turning it so Nate could see. "It's just a little project I've been working on."

    On the tablet were rectangular and square panels, like a comic book. And there were very detailed and lifelike scenes drawn in heavy strokes, and crosshatches of color. All but the final panel had art already. Nate swallowed his bite of food. “Whoa. That’s really good.” Before Tad moved it back in front of him, Nate realized that one of the men depicted looked a lot like Tad, and the guys in the scenes seemed close. He got the impression that they were a couple. He also noticed the page had a tab associated with it down below, and it was only the latest tab in what looked to be dozens.

    “Thanks.” Tad smiled, a little shyness on his face. “It’s just something to pass the time.” He laughed, a touch embarrassed. “Ah, it’s sort of an idealized version of my own life.” He grimaced. "I guess that's sorta boring."

    “No, I don't think so. I think it’s cool.” Nate grinned at him, and Tad smiled back, though there was a hint of sadness there too. 'I wonder what’s going on with you?’ Nate cleared his throat. “I’m gonna set up my computer. I think there should be plenty of room.”

    Tad moved a few things and soon both men were absorbed in their own devices. Though Nate noticed Tad looking at him numerous times while the pale man worked on his art.

    The third time their eyes met Tad smirked and shook his head. "Okay, I'm sorry. I'm probably creeping you out by staring. But, ah ..." He sheepishly turned the pad around.

    There was a line drawing of two mugs, and two men sitting at a little cafe table. Though detail was light, Nate could already see himself in one of the seated figures. He made a surprised sound, and grinned. "That's so cool." He looked from the tablet up to Tad's face. "And flattering, that you'd put me into your idealized world."

    Tad chuckled, a bit uncomfortable. "Ah, yeah." He spun the tablet back to its position in front of himself. He was silent as he tried to find what he wanted to say. "I don't socialize much lately." He shrugged. "Sorry, I know this is weird."

    Nate continued to smile. "Yeah, it is. But weird is interesting."

    The corners of Tad's eyes crinkled as he laughed. "That's a pretty weird thing to say." He grinned at Nate.

    "Seems like I fit right in then," Nate quipped, and he was gratified to hear Tad chuckle. Nate bit his lip and leaned forward. "Hey, so, I know this is probably a little forward of me but I wondered if maybe you'd like to get dinner sometime?"

    Tad's eyebrows went up and he couldn't seem to help the pleased expression on his face. "Ah, it is forward." He nodded as he thought. "But life really is too short for anything else." He drummed his fingertips on the table. "Just so you're aware, I'm not really looking for anything more than friends." He looked intently at Nate. "If that works for you, then, yeah. I'd love to go to dinner with you."

    Nate grinned. "Sounds fine." He frowned in thought. "What day works for you? And where would you like to go?"

    Tad shook his head. "Uh-uh. You asked me. So you pick where we go." His expression turned thoughtful. "As for when, let me check my calendar for dates." He closed his eyes and put his hands on his head. It was only for a few seconds, then he grinned and opened his eyes. "I work remotely as a contractor. So I can be free, pretty much any time."

    Nate snorted and narrowed his eyes in a mock critique of Tad. "You're going to be an interesting date." He made a face. "Ah, I mean, as a purely platonic friendly dinner engagement, of course."

    Tad smirked and eyed Nate. "Of course." He pulled out his phone, unlocked it, and slid it across the table. "Here. Enter your number for me if you'd like me to have it. And then give me some choices for dinner. I guess we can decide together."

    Nate took out his phone and the guys exchanged contact information.

    "Do you like pho?" Nate took his phone from Tad as he handed it over. "We can get bowls of the stuff for cheap at the place on 4th street on the way out of town." Nate felt as if he were making a confession. "I ah, I don't earn much so I have to spend carefully. But it's great food."

    "I know the place. I like it." Tad smiled. "Yeah, that works for me. What is your schedule like the rest of the weekend and next week?"

    "Hrmm. Well, I'm off Wednesday. Do you maybe want to go on Tuesday night? I get off work at five that day, so anytime after five-thirty or so works." Nate looked hopefully at Tad.

    Tad nodded. "Yeah, that'll be fine."

    "Cool." Nate smiled. "If you like, I can pick you up. You live in Eureka?"

    "I do, and yeah, that'd be great. I live on the corner of Hillsdale and E street. If you pull up to the curb there I'll see you and come out."

    Nate grinned. "All right. Sounds perfect. I drive a little beat up red Civic."

    Tad smiled back. "Okay. Then a purely platonic friendly dinner engagement it is." He smirked at Nate.

    Nate laughed. "Of course."

    The guys shared the table for another half-hour or so. Then Tad began to pack up his things. "Sorry, I've gotta get home. Our cat," Tad blinked. "Uh, my cat will be upset if I'm gone too long." He seemed embarrassed by the slip.

    Nate noticed but pretended not to hear it. "Okay." Nate watched as Tad put his things into his bag. "I'm looking forward to Tuesday."

    Tad clipped his bag shut, and he put on his coat. "Yeah." He shouldered the bag and nodded down at Nate. "Yeah, me too." He turned toward the exit. "See you later, Nate."

    Nate nodded and waved as Tad walked into the other room of the shop, and out of sight. Sitting in thought, he let his hopes and dreams swirl. Then he shook his head and tried to lose himself in the many distractions of the internet.


  • #3
    Chapter 2: Just for Fun

    Christopher frowned at his fingers. He scrubbed them hard, but he never could quite get all of the grease and grime off of his skin and from under his fingernails. That's what he got for being a mechanic.

    Finally, he gave up. He rinsed his tough, calloused hands and then turned off the water. Chris dried them on an old, threadbare towel, and turned away from the sink.

    It was Sunday night and he had just gotten home from his job at the auto dealership, though his new place on Wabash certainly didn't feel like home. Regardless, the tiny apartment was now his reality. Instead of greeting the end of each workday with joy and anticipation, now he felt merely numb.

    Three weeks earlier he had walked away from the man who still meant everything to him. While Tad looked at him with stunned, disbelieving eyes, Chris had packed his things and left. It felt almost as if he were in a dream. As if he were merely an actor in a tragedy, and that any moment the play would be over, and he could go back to living his life with Tad.

    There wasn't a final curtain. There was no one to tell Christopher that the nightmare was over. Instead, there was only the pain of knowing, and the deep ache of loss.

    Chris went through the motions of dinner. He was living on autopilot and had been since the breakup. He put a packaged meal into the microwave and hit the timer.

    So much of his world had been wrapped up in Tad that he didn’t know what to do without him. He stood in front of the microwave and stared blankly at the appliance as it worked to heat his food.

    The machine beeped, and Christopher removed the hot plastic tray. He walked over to the kitchen counter and peeled back the plastic film. Steam rose from the vegetables, meat, and corn nestled in the tray sections.

    Chris grabbed silverware and sat on the high stool next to the short bar counter. He ate stoically, robotically.

    Once he finished, he threw away the tray. Then the silverware clattered into the sink. There were now over a dozen forks and spoons in the bottom of the sink, all still dirty from his previous meals. Usually, unwashed dishes would bother him, but now he just didn’t care.

    The tall, broad man walked to the used futon in the living room, which served both as a couch and as his bed. He sat and pulled off his boots. It was only six-thirty, but he had no reason to be up and he slept a lot lately.

    He stripped his clothes, then lay down and draped the thin blanket which lay over the back of the futon over himself. He didn’t bother converting the futon to a bed.

    He lay on his back and he stared up at the slowly darkening ceiling in his apartment. Christopher swallowed, rolled in the blanket and onto his side, then he curled up into a ball.

    With a tired, desolate sigh the young man went to sleep.

    “What are you doing for lunch, Kent?” Nate gave his stocky, blond coworker his most winning smile. It was Monday, almost time for Nate's lunch. The young man, Kent, was on his second week of work at the bookstore and thanks to a few lingering looks from the fellow, Nate decided to feel him out a bit.

    Kent frowned slightly. Nate knew that Kent had already been cautioned about him. He caught Elizabeth warning Kent only yesterday as the two cataloged used textbooks donated to the store. "You're new, so I'm just going to tell you - Nate's nice, but, well, he's gay. And I'm pretty sure he's interested in you."

    It had irritated Nate at first but he couldn't deny the accuracy of her assessment. Kent was cute, sex was fun, and Nate had no problems admitting that he enjoyed both sex and the chase. Though he was thankful he had heard the exchange between them, because now he could tailor his approach in a way that might be more successful.

    "Uh, I'm just gonna eat some leftovers." Kent watched Nate as if he might try to jump his bones right next to the counter where the two guys worked. He shrugged. "I don't have a lot of money right now anyway."

    "Oh, I'll pay. We can go to Five Eleven, the place down the street. It's a nice spot, but it doesn't have to be expensive. We can split a pizza and get a beer." Nate watched him as Kent relaxed slightly. Nate smirked. "You've probably heard that I'm a player," he waggled his eyebrows, and his blue eyes were bright with mischievousness, "and I am. But sometimes a guy just wants to have lunch with his coworker."

    That earned Nate a snort from Kent and the young guy relaxed a little more. "Yeah, I've heard that about you." He put a few books which needed to be returned to the shelves aside, and gave a somewhat non-committal nod of his head. "All right. Pizza sounds good. But I can't drink. I'm nineteen."

    "Whoa. Really?" Nate made a surprised face, then smiled. "Oh yeah. You started last semester at Humboldt State, right?"

    "Yes. I'm just a freshman. I'm doing Forestry. They've got the best program in the state." Kent looked down at his hands. "Let me go wash up. It's dusty in here."

    Nate waited at the front door of the bookstore. It was located in Old Town Eureka, his favorite part of the city. The store saw a lot of foot traffic from both locals and from those folks passing through town, or parents visiting their HSU student children.

    Kent walked from the employee area in the back of the store and put on his raincoat. He stepped outside and looked suspiciously up at the gray sky. "I don't trust this place's weather."

    Nate laughed. "That's smart!" He held the door for Kent and looked at the desk. Elizabeth had only just returned from her lunch, and she frowned across the store at him. Nate grinned and waved at her. That only caused her frown to deepen as she watched the guys leave the building. "See you in an hour, Liz!"

    The two walked a block, and they entered Restaurant Five Eleven. It was modern, with sleek light fixtures in yellow and red stained glass, cement floors, and exposed metal ducting on the ceiling. The tables were all simple wooden squares with black metal legs along with sturdy chairs to match.

    They were seated by a young, blond woman. Nate couldn't help but notice that Kent didn't watch her when she turned and walked away. Instead, Kent looked around at the surroundings. "I've not been in here." He smiled slightly. "It sorta reminds me of the newer places in San Diego. Almost like they're trying to be a cool city joint."

    Nate's eyebrow went up. "Yeah?" He shrugged. "Us country mice are always so envious of you city folk. Can you blame us?"

    Kent made a face. "Well, I prefer the country. I didn't mean anything…"

    Nate snickered, and now Kent could see that the man was messing with him. He laughed and pushed playfully at Nate. "Suck my dick."

    "Hey, don't ask for what you don't want," Nate said, and watched Kent flush bright red. Nate laughed as Kent squirmed. "I'm just kidding, man." Then he shrugged. "Maybe."

    Eyeing him, Kent shook his head and chuckled. "It's a little weird." He scratched his head. "Ah, I've never really known a gay guy before."

    "You have. You just didn't realize it. It'd be tough not to if you went to public school." Nate looked over the menu on the table. "Okay, let's pick a pizza." Nate blinked innocently at Kent. "Do you like sausage?"

    Kent started to answer, then his jaw clenched shut and he shook his head with a snort. "Okay. I can tell I'm gonna have to be on my toes with you."

    Nate snickered. Kent grinned at him and the two continued to look at one another. Nate watched him swallow, the sound of it audible. Finally, Kent cleared his throat, and his eyes found the menu. "Uh, can, can I take a look at that?"

    "Sure thing." Nate slid the tri-folded paper over to his younger co-worker. Kent bit his lip, and picked it up, then his gaze moved over the lines for a few moments. Kent’s tongue wet his lips, and he glanced up.

    Nate still watched him and when their eyes met, he smiled at Kent.

    For his part, Kent blushed and worked his jaw. "Ah, how about the one with pepperoni, basil and goat cheese? It sounds good."

    "Yeah." Nate grinned. "Whatever you want is fine with me." There was a definite undercurrent of suggestiveness in Nate's tone and it wasn't lost on Kent.

    The young man's voice dropped, and he licked his lips again. "Whatever I want, huh?"

    Before Nate could respond, their server returned. "Have you guys decided?" She looked back and forth between them, pencil and pad in hand.

    Nate looked up at her as she stood beside their table. "Yeah." Then he leveled a smoldering gaze at Kent. "Though I think we're gonna get it to go." Nate turned on his most charming smile as he held Kent's attention. "That work? Take it back to my place so I can show you my pad?"

    Kent swallowed again and then a half-sure smile twitched on his lips. "Uh, yeah." He nodded and turned to their server. "Yeah, the pepperoni, basil and goat cheese pizza, to go."

    The server left and Kent studied his hands, which lay stretched out in front of him on the table. He looked a little as if he couldn't quite believe what he was doing.

    Nate sat back, sipped his water, and waited for their food to finish. His place was a short walk away - a great apartment in a refurbished building in Old Town, near his work and many of his favorite haunts. "It's close by. We'll have plenty of time to eat." Nate grinned when Kent looked up at him. "And whatever else we decide to do."

    Kent nodded slowly. He too picked up his water glass. "Sounds good."

    Soon their food arrived, boxed up and ready to go. Kent took the box, and then they stood, but not before he adjusted things under the table. Nate let the moment pass without comment. The guys walked to the counter and Nate pulled out his wallet.

    "Hey, thanks for lunch," Kent said. "It smells really good."

    Nate finished paying and put away his wallet as they headed toward the door. "Oh, sure." He debated a moment, then lay a single hand on Kent's shoulder and steered him outside. "Let's walk fast. I'm pretty damn hungry if you know what I mean."

    Kent nodded once and allowed the companionable hand to remain on his shoulder. "I think I do."

    They arrived and Nate let them into the foyer of the old apartment building. Then he led the way upstairs to the second floor. He opened the door and motioned at Kent to enter, a subtle smile on his face.

    Kent stepped inside and looked around the living room. Nate's place was small but neat. Over the two years he'd lived there, he had accumulated great deals from the various thrift stores around town. There was a nice couch, a coffee table, a long, tall, slim table against the wall beside the door, and a colorful rug over the glossy hardwood floor. A simple, paper-covered lamp was also on the table beside the door to add a diffuse yet warm light to the space.

    Kent smiled. "Nice place."

    "Thanks. I'm pretty happy with it." Nate closed the door behind them and stepped around Kent. "Come on in."

    Nate walked him over to the couch. Kent put the pizza box down on the coffee table and sat on the couch. Nate could tell he was on edge. 'Is this your first time?' Nate thought, and watched Kent as he took an audible breath.

    "Hey," Nate smiled and put a hand on Kent's back, just below his neck. "You don't have to be nervous." He shook his head slightly. "We can just have lunch, and we don't have to do anything other than that." He took on a chagrined expression. "Okay, yeah, I want to, but we don't have to."

    Kent's jaw shifted, and he looked over at Nate. His eyes moved over Nate's face, and he swallowed nervously. "I ah, I guess I just don't know what's expected of me."

    'It is his first time.' Nate slid his hand up until it rested on his neck. Kent's mouth opened slightly, and Nate watched him blink slowly and breathe through his parted lips. "Well, all you need to do is tell me if I do something you don't like. How's that sound?"

    Kent nodded. That was all the permission Nate needed. He leaned in and the two men gently kissed, his hand still on the back of Kent's neck. At first, it was just lips. But soon, Nate felt the tip of Kent's tongue as the younger man tentatively explored the experience of kissing another guy.

    Nate's tongue eagerly met Kent's. Soon enough, there was nothing tentative about the way that the men kissed.

    After a few minutes, Nate stood up. "Come on." He gripped Kent's hand and led the blonde to his bedroom. Now in the moment, Nate's desire ramped up. They made out there beside the bed and Nate soon had both of their pants undone and pushed down to their knees.

    He looked down, and there was a big, wet spot on Kent's light blue boxers at the apex of the tent created by his erection. Nate grinned as he reached down. He gripped Kent through the material and the younger man groaned. He firmly rubbed through the cloth, and felt Kent's breath against his face.

    Nate nibbled on Kent's lip and slipped his hand through the fly of the boxers. As soon as his fingers closed on Kent's warm, turgid member, the young man's jaw dropped and he made a small, desperate sound.

    Kent's hand grabbed Nate's wrist, and he gasped. At first, Nate wasn't quite sure what was happening, then he felt the warmth and wetness of semen as the blonde orgasmed in his shorts.

    "Shit," Kent was breathless and clung to Nate as he shuddered with his swift finish.

    Nate grinned at him. "Well, I guess that worked for you." He pulled his hand out of Kent's fly, and he looked at the sheen of come on his skin. Nate was still painfully hard and it stuck out, evident to both of the guys.

    For his part, Kent flushed red. "Uh, sorry." His gaze drifted down to Nate's erection hidden beneath Nate’s underwear. "I... I can help you if you want."

    "Sounds great!" Nate pushed his briefs down, then lay back on the bed, his legs over the side. He was perfectly average and with his slim waist, it suited his body well.

    Nate watched as Kent stared at his cock. Kent reached and gently gripped the shaft. The young guy glanced at Nate's face, then he began to stroke, his grip loose and careful. "Like this?"

    Nate reached, and he closed Kent's hand a little tighter. Then he let his head lay back on the bed. "Mmm. Like that. Yeah."

    Kent continued. His pace never varied from the slow, steady stroke. Nate was excited, and he wasn't going to take long himself. Sex with a new guy always made things happen quickly for him. He pulled his shirt up so that he wouldn't make a mess on his clothes.

    Nate worked his jaw, felt his climax build then released with a grunt, and he spurted on his almost hairless belly. Kent watched and seemed fascinated by the whole process.

    Nate finished as Kent slowly released him, leaving his hand resting warm and wet on Nate's flat belly. Nate breathed out a satisfied sigh and lifted his head. He grinned at the blonde. "Great lunch, huh?"

    Kent smirked, and then he stood up. "Yeah. Though we still need to eat." He looked down at his crotch, at his wet, sticky underwear. "Uh. I'm gonna take these off. I guess I'm freeballing the rest of the day."

    While Nate wiped himself up and grabbed a slice of pizza, Kent went to the bathroom to clean up and dress. He came back to the living room to see Nate working on his second piece. The husky blonde frowned at Nate. "Hey. Save me one." Then he purposely bumped Nate as he sat down.

    The guys laughed, and they companionably ate their lunch. When they finished up and were leaving the apartment, Nate gave Kent a lustful look as the young man walked ahead of him, and he couldn't quite help where his mind went. 'Next time, let's see if you can last long enough to get naked.'

    It was Tuesday, just after five p.m. Tad sat in a chair he had pulled up to the window and watched the street. Usually, the thought of any sort of date with a stranger, even the platonic kind, would set off his mind scurrying down various spirals of worry. Tad was just coming off of a long-term relationship with a man he loved very much, so it was a bit of a stretch for him to allow any sort of new connection to begin with someone new. But he was learning to put that sort of anxiety where it belonged - far down on his list of stressors.

    Kali took full advantage of his stationary body, and she jumped up into his lap. He smiled and looked lovingly down at her. "Hi, little missy." She was a rescue and it had taken a few months before she would allow them to pet her. But now, she couldn't get enough of it. His hand began to stroke the black feline, and she turned around and around as she strained up into his touch.

    Tad continued to pet her, then he started when his phone vibrated. His eyes widened and he picked up the device from the windowsill. It was a text from Nate and he had to crush his disappointment. His first hope was that Christopher had reached out, but no luck there. Tad exhaled and read the text. 'I'll be there in five! See you then!"

    Tad tapped out a reply. 'Ok. See you soon.'

    He let the hand with the phone relax on his lap with the cat. She couldn't understand why that hand wasn't petting her, and she headbutted it even though Tad's other hand was busy doing exactly that. He looked down and shook his head. "You are greedy." He put the phone in his pocket and rubbed her head with both hands. "You are greedy for love. Greedy!" He grinned at her loud purring and the way her eyes squeezed shut under his touch.

    It wasn't long before the little red Civic parked on the street outside his building. Tad stood, disturbing Kali in the process, and then snagged his coat on the way out.

    He closed up his apartment and walked over to the car. He opened the door and smiled at Nate. "Hey." Tad slid into the seat of the fragrant, clean car. He noticed the little pine air freshener hanging from the mirror as he did.

    Nate grinned over at him. "Hey." His eyes roamed over Tad's clothes. Tad had dressed nicely in a pair of black slacks, a gray turtleneck sweater, and his very short black hair was on display. Though his hair was too short to style, it was glossy and added to his look. "You clean up nice."

    Tad returned the scrutiny. Nate's red hair was styled up to a soft point, and his narrow, smooth, handsome face was complemented by his deep blue eyes. "Same to you." He motioned with his chin at Nate's brown pants. "Are those corduroys?"

    Nate grimaced, and he pulled away from the curb. "Ah, yeah. They're my best clean pants." He shrugged. "I need to hit the laundry room."

    Tad smiled. "I like them. They work with your shirt." Nate looked briefly down at himself, at his cream-colored button-up shirt. Tad decided to play with him a bit. "Though I'm not sure a platonic date is worth a button-up."

    "Hah!" Nate barked a laugh, and he turned onto 4th Street, the main highway heading south through town. "I guess we'll see, huh?"

    Tad relaxed a little. Nate was a cute, attractive guy, that was certain. He was also funny, outgoing, and self-assured. Though that brought Tad to another line of thought. 'What are you doing? Why are you here right now? Are you just biding time?' He frowned to himself as his mind began to circle. 'What are you doing?'

    They arrived at the restaurant and Nate looked over at Tad. He grinned at the black-haired man. "Do you want me to platonically open your door for you?"

    The timing of Nate's comment couldn't have been better and Tad guffawed. Then he rolled his eyes. "Yes. Absolutely. I demand it." Tad folded his arms over his chest and looked expectantly at Nate, calling what he thought was a bluff.

    Nate got out, walked around the vehicle and opened the passenger door. He looked so pleased with himself as Tad stepped out that Tad wasn't able to hold back a laugh. Nate's blue eyes sparkled with mirth as Tad reacted to the over-the-top display.

    The two guys walked close to one another and chatted on their way to the restaurant. As they got to the door, Nate again opened it for Tad. He motioned with a flourish and grinned at Tad as he did.

    Tad gave him an entertained smirk. He entered and waited for Nate to step up beside him. As he did, he let a new idea bloom in his mind. 'I'm done feeling guilty about having fun. And right now, this is fun.'

    From behind the wheel of his truck, Christopher watched Tad walk into the restaurant with the redhead. He had barely finished with his job and he still wore his grimy, greasy work clothes. He had just arrived at Tad's apartment to check on him only a few minutes before he saw the little red car pick Tad up. He debated when the car pulled away and decided to follow them. Now, Chris stared forlornly at the front door of the eatery where Tad had disappeared with the stranger.

    He struggled with how he felt. 'You did this. You let him go.' Christopher forced the thoughts into his mind and made himself internalize them.

    Chris sighed. The sound was heavy. It carried both his sadness and some relief. 'Is he dating?' Christopher flinched at his own mental question. He hated that he felt conflicted over the idea, and so he pushed back on the realization until he sat straight up.

    "He's dating, and it's good," Chris whispered in the still air of the truck. He squeezed his eyes shut. "It's good." He bit his lip. "God, he looks so good."

    Chris swallowed and took another breath. His chest still felt as if there was a band of iron around it, but he had felt that way since he ended things with Tad. He tried hard to ignore the sensation.

    Without any additional hesitation, the tall, broad man put his truck into gear and pulled out of the parking lot - back to his lonely studio.


    • #4
      Chapter 3: Indifference

      "So, besides art, what do you like to do for fun?" Nate sat in the booth with Tad and put his elbows on the table to prop up his chin. He leaned forward, totally engaged and intrigued in Tad's response. Their orders had already been taken, and Nate wanted to use every moment with Tad to forge those social connections he loved so much.

      Tad thought a moment. "Well, I like reading, drawing, video gaming, and dreaming about breaking into the comic book business." Tad smiled. "I know that's a dream but it's a consistent one." He cocked his head. "How about you? What do you spend your free time doing?"

      Nate shrugged. "I'm sorta boring, I guess. I love camping, I'm a science geek, and I read a lot of what people think of as dense, jargon-filled papers and texts." He smiled. "I work at Eureka Books, one of the used bookstores in Old Town. It's a great place for someone who loves to read as much as I do." He made a face. "Though the pay could be better."

      Tad smiled affably, and Nate felt his heart thrill a little at the expression. 'Damn, he's so cute. I need to get me some of that. I wonder if he’s a top?’

      Their server returned to the table and dropped off their steaming bowls of pho - a complex, savory soup made with rice noodles, broth with herbs and spices, and various cuts of meat. Nate's mouth watered as he looked down at the large bowl. He picked up the squeeze bottle of garlic and chili paste that sat on the table for customers to spice up their soup. "Your art is great. At the coffee shop, I saw that you can draw. It looked like you have a lot of material already done too - if every single tab on your tablet actually had art in it."

      Tad stirred his soup with a pair of chopsticks. "Thanks for the compliment. And, yeah. I've got just over two hundred pages of art. There are either four or five panels on each - you know, like a comic book." He then began to tear up one of the little sprigs of basil that came with their soup and sprinkled that over his meal.

      "Whoa." Nate blinked. "Uh, that's almost ten comic books worth of material." He tested his soup and nodded to himself at the flavors. "Is the subject matter all your life, or what?"

      Tad grabbed a bunch of steaming noodles with his chopsticks, and he let them cool a bit in the air over his bowl. "Yeah, sorta." He shrugged. "Uh, it's mainly the life that I shared with my boyfriend. Just everyday stuff - living and loving as a gay man, and the things we have to deal with." Tad's voice softened. "Things that we went through."

      "Boyfriend? You're still a pair?" Nate asked, but he knew the answer from overhearing Tad and his sister in the coffee shop earlier in the month. He fished around for a piece of beef tendon with his chopsticks and put the morsel into his mouth.

      Tad sighed. "I guess we're not."

      Nate chewed and watched as Tad quietly began to eat his noodles. Nate swallowed his food. After a quick debate, he decided to make his play. "Well, it's obvious it wasn't your choice." He smiled at Tad when the dark-eyed man looked up at him. "You're really a handsome guy. So, he has to be crazy to give you up."

      Tad chuckled. "Thanks." He began to absently stir his soup with the chopsticks and stared down into the bowl. "I don't know. Maybe he's right, and I'm the crazy one." Then he frowned to himself and shook his head. "Sorry. I'm not being very good company. And I promised myself I'd not dwell on this tonight."

      "I think you're great company," Nate said smoothly. He was gratified to see a little blush on Tad's face when he glanced up at the flirty redhead. Nate could sense some sort of untold story between Tad and his ex. Though he really didn’t care much about those details, he’d still use the situation to his advantage. Nate leaned forward, his blue eyes focused. "I'm sorry this guy didn't appreciate you."

      Tad smiled sadly. "Ah, it's not that. I know Chris loves me." He bit his lip. "It's complicated."

      'It certainly sounds complicated.' Nate got the impression both Tad and this Chris fellow were still in love with one another. 'Hrm. That means he's hurting.' While Nate didn't like the idea of pain for its own sake, Tad's angst could end up working for him tonight. He couldn't help but plot. 'And it'd be terrible if a guy walked into his life and took his mind off of things for a while.'

      Tad shook his head and interrupted Nate's thoughts. "But, I'm here hanging out with you." Tad gazed at Nate with dark eyes. "And I think, maybe, that's what I need right now."

      Nate responded with a grin.

      Halfway across the country in Texas, Markus sat on the edge of his bed. He kept the sheet draped over his hips and waited for his guest to finish with the bathroom. It wasn't long before the naked, handsome guy strutted down the hallway. He flashed a grin at Markus. "I told you I could work that tension out of your back." Thomas laughed. The guy had always been chatty and interested in Markus where they worked together at the Amarillo College campus bookstore. Now Markus understood why.

      They were in Texas, so Thomas didn't exactly advertise that he was gay, but Markus had gotten that impression. After Markus had finally relented and had him over, it hadn't been long before Thomas's promised massage turned into something far more sensual. Thomas sat on the bed and pulled on his socks. Markus watched him, still trying to work out how he felt about what had happened.

      Thomas finished getting dressed and stood up. He looked down as Markus remained there, on the edge of the rumpled bed. "We should make this a regular thing."

      Markus's jaw worked. "Maybe. I'll think about it."

      Thomas paused. "Well, okay." He frowned. "You all right? I mean, this is what you wanted, right? You seemed pretty into it."

      Markus sighed. "Yeah, I wanted it."

      A short time later, Thomas left Markus's place and the dark-haired man stared at the door. "I wanted it. And that's the problem."

      Christopher gazed down at the graph paper. As soon as he got home from the parking lot of the pho restaurant, he dug it out of the backpack he kept in the closet. The paper now lay on the wooden tabletop and he sat at the small piece of furniture in his studio. The remains of his meal lay off to the side, a plastic tray still slightly warm from the microwave and the bits of food stuck to it, while an empty glass, wet with condensation and filmed with milk, was at his elbow.

      The sight of Tad had sparked something and his eyes followed the precise, crisp lines on the page. The drawing showed in exacting detail Christopher's plans for Tad's desk that he had built. It was the very same desk Tad still used for his art and reading.

      Christopher had always had a talent for woodwork and technical drawing. Actually, he had a talent with just about any sort of hands-on activity. His job as a mechanic wasn't ideal for him, but it had been easy for him to learn and he could do the work required of him quickly.

      Though wood was where his true passion lay. The desk was both a work of art and one of function. It was compact, rustic, and yet elegant all at once. It had two pivoting wooden surfaces built in, mounted under the top. Each was the footprint of Tad's new computer his sister had purchased for him. There were many more custom, thoughtful elements Christopher poured into the design. It was, by far, the most technical piece of furniture Chris had ever created. His fingers ran slowly over the lines, and he let himself remember Tad's joy at his first sight of it.

      He closed his eyes. That familiar sensation of an iron band wrapped around his chest was there. It felt as if he couldn't take a full breath. No matter how deeply he breathed, he couldn't get rid of it.

      'He's dating. He's fine.' Christopher exhaled in a slow, long respiration. 'You don't have to be what he needs anymore.'

      He hated that he was wallowing. He pushed back from the table and stood up. Christopher grabbed the graph paper with his careful and detailed plans, crumpling it tight in his fist.

      He strode over to the garbage can beside the sink and threw the paper in. Then he turned and started to walk away. Chris got two steps and stood with his head pointed down, and his hands flexed open and closed, open and closed.

      Christopher made a frustrated sound, and he turned. He fished the small wadded paper out of the garbage. With shaking fingers he carefully pulled the balled paper apart, then he smoothed it out as best as he could on the table.

      He looked down at the wrinkled, yet still legible plans. With a heavy sigh, he ran his hand over the marred surface.

      "I'm sorry, Tad. I really am. Please, be okay." He swallowed the lump in his throat and turned away, leaving one of the most joyful memories of his life there on the table.

      The little red Honda Civic pulled up across from Tad's apartment and Nate put the car into park. He looked over at Tad and smiled. "Well, here you are. Platonically delivered back home."

      Tad laughed. It had been some time since he had felt anything close to happiness. After Chris had walked out of his life almost a month ago, the emotion had been hard to come by. Yet Nate easily pulled good and positive emotions out of him. The ache and need for Chris remained, but Nate helped him remember what feeling good was like. He looked up at the window on the second floor that was lit by the yellow glow of his desk lamp. A little black shape was backlit in the window, and Tad could almost hear Kali meowing in his mind. "Thanks." His eyes came back to rest on Nate's. "It was nice to hang out, Nate."

      "It was." Nate nodded, and he wet his lips nervously. "Uh, so, do things have to stay platonic?" His eyes lit up with desire and he stared intently at Tad. He tentatively reached one hand over, and he let it rest, warm and comforting on Tad's leg, just above his knee. "I'd like to come up with you. I'll treat you really nice tonight if you'll let me."

      Tad couldn't believe how tempting that sounded. He was a one-man kind of guy, and emotionally, he hadn't let go of Christopher. Though Nate's attractiveness, his forward nature, and his overt interest made it hard to say no. Tad let himself look over Nate's handsome face with his deep blue, intense eyes, dark red eyebrows, and his pale, slightly-freckled skin. "Well, I admit I'm tempted." He swallowed. Then he smiled and shook his head just a tiny bit. "Tell you what. Let's try this again. Next time, not platonically. Then, if things work out, maybe you'll get to see my apartment."

      Nate's face showed his disappointment and he moved his hand from Tad's leg. He frowned, seemed to catch himself then chuckled. "Okay. That sounds good." He eyed Tad. "Just so you know, I'm not used to striking out."

      Tad grinned at him, and he leaned over until his face was only a few inches from Nate's. "Well, if you play the game right, maybe you'll get a homerun next go around." Before Nate could respond, Tad gently pulled him in.

      The guys kissed, and Tad felt Nate's hand on the back of his neck. Endorphins and electricity began to shoot through his brain and his cock hardened in his pants. Nate must have been in a similar state, because the redhead groaned around Tad's mouth and tongue.

      After a scorching kiss, Tad sat back. They both stared at one another and to Tad's eye, Nate looked a little stunned as he blinked in the aftermath of their amorous moment.

      Tad smiled broadly at him. "You've got my number." With that, he opened the door and got out of the car. Before he could change his mind, Tad walked across the street and into his apartment building.

      He unlocked the door to his place and Kali met him with a rub around his ankles. "Whew. Kali, that boy is something else." He bent, scooped her up, and walked down the hall with her.

      Tad stood in the living room with his kitty. She purred, happy to be held for a bit. Then she began to squirm and he put her down. Tad bent for one more pat on her head, then he stepped over to the window that faced the street.

      The Civic was still there, and the glow of a phone screen was visible in the dark car as Nate held it in his lap. Tad's own phone vibrated, and he withdrew it from his pocket. 'Sunday night? Brick and Fire? I'll make reservations for us if you like.'

      Brick and Fire was a nice spot. It had a great ambiance, and the food was always delicious. It was also a wonderful place to take a date. Tad grinned and he responded with a text of his own. 'Sure. How about six?'

      A thumbs up icon quickly appeared as Nate replied. Then Tad watched as the light from the phone disappeared into Nate's pocket, and the Civic drove away. He stood for a while at the window until there was an insistent meow from the kitchen, near Kali's food bowl.

      He chuckled and walked over to the fridge. Tad reached and pulled down Kali's bag of kibble, while the black feline twined around his feet. "What am I going to do, monster?" He poured her food into the little ceramic bowl, and she began to eat immediately. Tad put the bag down and sat there on the floor beside her. He stroked her while Kali's little cute face was in the bowl and her teeth crunched on the food. "I miss your daddy." His face changed to show the sadness he felt around Chris' absence. "But I don't know if he's ever coming home."

      He continued to pet her and she purred while she ate. Tad tried to regain some of the way he felt when he was with Nate. "Well, I guess we'll see how Sunday goes." Tad gave her one final pat and he got to his feet. Then he looked thoughtfully over at his desk with his tablet and stylus lying on top. "And, maybe it's time for a new page in the book."

      With a little smile, Tad walked over to the desk, and he sat. His eyes lit up as he worked at bringing his evening with Nate to life on the page.

      Nate got home after he dropped off Tad and he flopped down onto his couch. "Fuck." He rubbed his face and lay back on the couch. After a moment he let his hands fall and stared up at the ceiling. "Damn it. Thought for sure I had him." He let his tongue run over his lips and remembered how Tad had tasted in the car when they kissed.

      His body remembered too, and his erection strained at the material of his pants. Nate rubbed himself through the cloth and a low groan rumbled in his chest and throat. He teased himself for a bit, then unbuttoned his pants, and his white briefs did nothing to hide his cock as it stood almost straight up, now that it was freed from the corduroys.

      Nate gripped himself through the thin material. When he squeezed a wet spot appeared on his shorts. Nate licked his lips, and he lifted his hips to peel his clothes down and off. Before he could, his phone vibrated and he jumped. Nate laughed, and he dug in the pocket of his half-down pants.

      "Huh. Kent." He unlocked the phone and read the message. 'Hey. Doing anything? Wanna hang out?'

      Nate's tongue appeared as he grinned. "Mmmm." He tapped out a reply with both thumbs. 'I wanna hang out. Come over.'

      'Okay. See you in a few.'

      Nate's eyes narrowed and his smile remained. Then he stood up to get ready for his visitor.

      Kent was both nervous and excited. He walked up the stairs to Nate's apartment, not quite sure what he expected or wanted out of the night. He liked what had happened between himself and Nate Monday over their lunch, and he had masturbated to the memory of it twice yesterday.

      Now, he stood at Nate's door and he knocked.

      "It's open!"

      Kent turned the knob and the door opened. He blinked, and his jaw dropped.

      Nate stood in the middle of his living room, naked, his dick erect and a grin on his face. "Come on in, Kent." Kent raked him with his eyes and took in everything about the handsome redhead - from his piercing blue eyes to his slim, smooth middle, down to the fiery red hair on his groin.

      Kent swallowed and stepped inside. He closed the door behind him, but he never took his eyes off of Nate.

      With a sideways smirk, Nate stepped close to him. "I hope you don't mind that I got comfortable for you." He leaned in, one hand on the back of Kent's neck, and the other rubbed the younger man's growing cock through his jeans.

      Kent's breathing increased. "N … no. I don't mind." He panted as Nate started to undress him, and Kent's hands rested on Nate's slim hips.

      Nate leaned in and kissed him. Kent's eyes rolled in his skull, and as they made out his pants were undone and pushed to his knees.

      Nate pulled back a moment. "You need to be naked."

      Kent pulled off his shirt, and then he stepped out of his pants. He hesitated a moment with his thumbs under the waistband of his underwear. "Uh, I don't know. We're not gonna do anything risky, are we?"

      Nate turned on his smile. "No." He ground his body into Kent's, and the teenager's eyes fluttered as their cocks rubbed together. Even through the material of his shorts, it felt great. "We're gonna play safe." Nate gently nibbled Kent's neck, and he smiled against the skin there. "All you've got to do is lie on the bed. Let me do the rest."

      There was simply no denying Nate. Still a bit unsure, Kent let himself be led to the bed, then Nate's eager hands pulled his boxers down off of his hips. It was obvious that Nate was amped up, and his needful and insistent nature showed in his manner.

      Nate pushed Kent onto his back on the bed and straddled the husky guy's hips. Kent gasped as Nate gripped his cock. "I want this inside me," Nate whispered.

      Kent groaned as Nate stroked him. At some point, a condom appeared, and Nate rolled it over Kent's penis. Then Nate smeared lube on Kent and he put a bit on his own rear.

      "Oh man, this is happening." Kent's voice had a note of disbelief.

      "You bet." Nate grinned down, and he positioned himself against Kent.

      "I've just," Kent gasped when he felt the head of his erection press against Nate's warm, tight body, "I've never done this."

      “I figured this was your first time. That's okay,” Nate replied, then something seemed to give him pause. "Are you okay with this?" Though he stopped the downward motion of his body, his hand still circled Kent's turgid member as he guided it into himself, and one finger rubbed back and forth across the younger man's scrotum.

      What Nate was doing felt amazing. Though Kent had reservations, he found himself unable to stop what was happening. "I,” he moaned as Nate’s hand gave him a little stroke, “I’m ok. Don’t stop."

      Nate smiled. "Good." He let his body settle, and as Kent began to enter him he leaned down, and the two men kissed.

      Instinct started to take over, and Kent pushed his hips up. Nate sat up, and he let his head loll back. It wasn't long before he sat on Kent's pelvis, with the young fellow's penis entirely inside him.

      "Mmmm. Fuck, that feels good." Nate grinned and he looked down at Kent.

      The blonde’s eyes locked into Nate’s face. “God, this is crazy. I can't believe I'm doing this.” Nate began to move his hips, and only a few moments later Kent’s jaw dropped. “Oh shit. Shit.”

      “Hang on for me.” Nate furiously stroked himself as he rode Kent. It was apparent Kent wasn’t going to last long.

      Appearances were not deceiving. Kent made a strangled sound, and he bucked up into Nate’s body. He had an incredibly intense orgasm, and his body shook while it raged. During Kent's finish, Nate managed to start his own. He let out a groan and a rope of come shot out of him to land in a long streak from Kent’s belly up to his neck. Then he dribbled more as he stroked himself. Finally, he was still.

      Both guys panted and Nate patted Kent’s arm. “There you go. You can’t say you’ve not had sex now.”

      Kent swallowed, and his face shifted. “Uh. Yeah. Yeah, I guess that’s what we did.”

      Nate disentangled himself and he stood up beside the bed. He looked down at Kent. “Well, yeah.” When the teenager didn’t respond, he sat on the edge of the bed beside him. “You ok?”

      Kent suddenly felt a lot of emotion, as a realization crashed into his mind. “Uh.” He blinked and a tear ran down his face. He wiped it away, and then another followed the first. “Shit.”

      Now Nate looked concerned. “Dude, what’s wrong?”

      Kent bit his lip. “It’s ah, it’s just I think I might be gay.” He breathed and shook his head. “I really liked this. I wasn’t supposed to be gay, you know?”

      Nate eyed him as Kent hung his head. Then he smiled at the younger man. “Well, you’re pretty fucking good at it.” He obviously tried to make light of things.

      Kent frowned, and he looked sideways at Nate. Then he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood. He reached down and pulled off the condom. “I’d better go.” He stalked away, throwing the condom into the garbage as he walked by the bathroom.

      “Kent,” Nate followed him. Kent began shoving on his clothes. “What’d I say?” Kent remained silent, and while Nate tried to get him to talk he mutely dressed. Once finished, he turned to leave.

      “At least tell me what I did wrong.” Nate seemed genuinely confused.

      That’s what gave Kent pause. He faced Nate with a stony, flat expression. “You made a joke out of it. My whole life is now different from,” he began to tear up, “fuck!” He wiped his face. “My whole life is different from what I thought it’d be.” He continued to cry, but now he let the tears fall. “And that’s a joke to you.”

      “No, I didn’t mean it like that.” Nate stepped toward him, his hand extended. But he stopped when Kent set his jaw and leaned forward - it was a subtly threatening posture, one that showed he didn't want Nate touching him. Nate stood there, still naked and now uncertain. Finally he let his hand fall, still a step away from the upset blonde. “Shit, I’m sorry.”

      Kent raised his head and he gave a tight nod, while his lips pressed into a thin line. “Yeah. Well, me too.”

      Kent turned, opened the door, and left.

      Nate stared at the still open door, and he finally made himself step over to close it before someone walked by and saw him. “Fuck. Jesus, he’s so sensitive.”

      Nate thought about the situation and the part he played, but he couldn’t hit upon anything he should have done differently. He shrugged then sighed. “Oh well. I can’t help that he’s not ready to admit he’s queer. That’s on him. I hope he gets himself figured out.”

      He let go of any sense that he might be at all responsible for Kent’s distress. He’d gotten laid, and he also had the date with Tad to look forward to in a few days.

      He wandered into the bathroom. Nate cleaned himself up with a nice shower, and he whistled a happy little tune as he did.

      Overall, Nate was having a pretty good night.


      • #5
        Chapter 4: Absolution

        It was early on Thursday morning and still dark. Chris watched her enter the little cafe on Harris Street. That she had agreed to come was a bit of a surprise, but Miranda stepped into the warm, well-lit breakfast spot, out of the falling rain of the gloomy morning. Miranda pushed the hood of her rain jacket back, and her eyes raked over the room until they landed on him. Then she walked across the black and white tiled floor, pulled out the old wooden chair, and sat.

        "Thanks. For meeting me." Christopher folded his hands in front of him on the table, and he looked down, away from her eyes. "I know you must hate me."

        Miranda sat back in her chair, arms crossed and glared at Chris. "I'm here because of who you were to Tad." She sighed. "And because he wants us all to get along," she said, though Chris noticed that she didn't deny hating him.

        The way she said "were" made him flinch. Miranda continued to stare at him. "What do you want, Christopher?"

        He swallowed and fidgeted with the cuff of his long-sleeved button-up shirt. He had dressed nicely in some of the best clothes he owned. The light blue shirt fit him well and with his gray slacks, he looked as if he could be a young professional at the university. He wanted Miranda to know that he respected her and had dressed accordingly, though it meant he'd have to go home and change before heading to his job at the dealership later that morning. "I just want to know how he's doing." He finally raised his hazel eyes up to meet her dark ones. "I know he has been out with another guy." Chris smiled, though the expression was pained. "I'd hoped he was dating."

        Miranda frowned. "First, I find it hard to believe you hope he's dating someone else. Second, I check in with him every day and far as I know he's still fine. And I don't know anything about him dating someone else." She clenched her jaw. "Even if he is, that's none of your business now."

        Chris had known this might be hard, and he had tried to prepare himself for her anger. Still, knowing she'd be mad and dealing with it were two entirely different things. "Yeah, I know that." He shook his head and looked down at his coffee, searching for something else to focus on. "I'm not upset about him dating. I… I hope it works out for him."

        Miranda was silent. Then she inhaled in what sounded like a realization. "You want absolution. You want to know you can really walk away and just stay gone." Chris set his jaw and his hands tightened on his mug as she leaned forward. "That is the foulest thing I've ever heard. That you'd leave? Right when he needed you? You were everything to him! That you'd just…" She caught herself as her voice started to rise and heads in the restaurant turned toward them. She took a shaky breath. They were both quiet - her staring in a barely controlled rage, while Chris hung his head in misery. Finally, she continued, "You're a coward. That's what you are, and my brother deserves better."

        Christopher had no idea how he could explain, so he didn't try. Instead, he nodded. "Yeah. I know."

        Miranda snorted with a laugh. "Well, at least we agree on that." She pushed away from the table and stood. "Christopher, despite what you've done, Tad still loves you. He still loves you." The incredulous tone in her voice told Chris exactly what she thought about that. She leaned forward and loomed over him, her hands on the tabletop. "That worries me. Because he doesn't need someone in his life who will cut and run when things get hard. And we both know things are going to get a lot harder. So if you truly care, you really will stay gone." She stared at him until he raised his sad and tired eyes to hers.

        She didn't wait for a response. Miranda turned and strode away as if he were no longer of any value at all.

        Chris watched her go. After she was gone he slumped in his seat, and turned his head to look at the rain. It fell on the wet street outside the cafe, and he let his eyes lose focus. He sat that way for a long time, staring into the rain and dreaming of the sun.

        It was mid-morning, Thursday. The rain had yet to let up, which made Nate glad he was inside the bookstore. Only a few customers milled about. Nate was a little nervous about seeing Kent. The young man was due to work in a few minutes, and Nate was a bit concerned about how the day would go.

        The phone rang and his coworker, Elizabeth, picked it up. "Hello, Eureka Books." She listened and then her lips pressed into a thin line. "Oh. Okay." While Elizabeth spoke her eyes flicked to spear Nate as he stood nearby. "Yeah, it's fine, Kent. If you need the day off, just take it. We can handle things between us. I'll let Mr. and Mrs. Stewart know. Feel better." She hung up, tapped her foot, then she turned her body to face Nate.

        Nate pretended to be engrossed in organizing a stack of books next to the counter. Liz cleared her throat. "That was Kent." Her voice had just a bit of a bite. "He's calling out today. Said he needed a mental health day."

        "Huh." Nate gave a non-committal nod. Then he chuckled. "He's nineteen-years-old. What has he got to be stressed about?"

        Liz didn't answer. She only crossed her arms and looked at him. Nate squirmed, and he coughed. "Uh, I'm gonna go reshelve these." He grabbed the stack and he quickly got out of her sight.

        Guilt was not an emotion Nate typically felt, but Liz had a way of quietly inflicting it on him. "Fucking judgy Liz," Nate muttered as he worked to reshelve books on some of the back shelves. "I can't help if Kent is too immature to handle his own sexuality."

        Nate continued to grumble to himself as he put books away. Then he frowned as his phone vibrated. Nate put his remaining load down at his feet on the old, polished wooden floor, and he pulled the phone from his pocket.

        There was a text with a digital drawing of he and Tad kissing in a car, and Nate grinned at the message from Tad. It was exactly what he needed to distract from his guilty mind. 'Aww! I love it!' He quickly tapped out the reply and sent it.

        Tad replied with a smiley face. Nate grinned down at the phone and his thoughts centered back on the dark-haired man. Nate had never met a guy who interested him more. Maybe it was because Tad had turned him down and that typically didn't happen. That was almost certainly a part of his desire.

        Yet, there was something more. Each time he thought about Tad he felt not only aroused but uncharacteristically giddy, and there was a lack of full control over his thoughts. Even when he wanted to push the handsome man out of his mind to focus on something else, he found that he couldn't do it. At multiple points during the day, Nate had to keep himself from texting Tad.

        Part of the game meant Nate always made the object of his attention text or call him. Even while on the hunt, he always played the part of the prize. But Tad was something else. Nate replayed the kiss between them over and over in his memory and such focus on a guy had never happened to him before.

        He forced himself to put the phone away and he exhaled. "Get a grip. You'll see him on Sunday." Nate picked up the books on the floor and resumed his work. But his mind kept going. 'I need a distraction. Maybe Grindr. I can find a boy who wants to screw.'

        He frowned as he debated. 'It won't be Tad though.' Nate let out an audible groan of frustration. He slid a thick textbook into place with some force. "Why can't it be Sunday?"

        "What?" Tad stood up from the powerful desktop computer he used for work, his cell phone in hand. The call from his sister interrupted a contracted graphic design job he was just finishing up, but he could go back to that. "You saw him? You saw Christopher?" Tad's voice showed his concern. "How was he? Did he look okay?"

        "Tad, he's fine. Don't worry about that pr-" She stopped, then she sighed. "Look, don't worry about Christopher. He just wanted to know how you're doing." Her voice softened. "I guess you guys aren't communicating at all. Honestly, I think that's for the best."

        "I know that you do." Tad rubbed his short black hair. "If I thought it'd help him I'd show up at his door at that apartment on Wabash. But I don't think it would." Tad shook his head. "It has to be him. I won't ask him to come back through." He bit his lip as he struggled. "Ah, I'll never ask him to stay through what's coming."

        "You shouldn't have to ask, Tad. He had the chance to do the right thing and he screwed up. This is your decision. He should stand by you, not run because he disagrees." Her voice was hard, and the judgment obvious. Then Miranda's tone shifted. "He said he saw you out with a guy. Are you dating someone new?"

        "Shit." Tad exhaled and he looked at the ceiling. "I hate this small town sometimes."

        Miranda chuckled. "Yeah, word gets around."

        "Well, there's no word to get around. I'm not dating." Tad felt a flush of embarrassment. "Ah, it was just dinner with a cute guy. He asked me out, and I went."

        "Mmm hmm. And do you have another date scheduled with him?"

        "Damn it, Miranda." Tad laughed uncomfortably.

        "You do! That's the definition of 'dating' you know - multiple dates!" She joined him in laughter and Tad could hear the smile in her voice. "Tad, don't feel bad about that. Date! Have fun." She breathed in relief. "God, I'm glad you're moving on."

        "There's no moving on, Miranda." Tad looked at Kali as she lay curled in her bed beside his computer desk. "So much of me still lives with Chris. There's only," he searched for the right words, "there's only distraction."

        "Distraction?" Miranda paused. "Does this new guy know that's what he is?" She asked the question gently, but Tad felt a tiny stab of guilt.

        "Oh, he knows. He's a bit of a player." He smiled on the phone. "It's actually kind of perfect; there's no danger of anything more, and I don't have to go and have the talk with him."

        "Well, in that case, I'm glad you're distracting yourself," Miranda said.

        Tad smiled sadly. "Yeah. I guess I am too. Nate's cute, and I had a lot of fun with him."

        "I'm happy to hear it," she said. "That's all I want, you know? I just want you to be happy."

        "I know, sis. Thanks."

        They said their goodbyes and Tad hung up. He held the phone in both hands and navigated to his Contact List. Tad found Christopher's entry and selected it. He stared at the picture associated with the number. Chris's handsome face stared back at him from the screen. His light brown hair and beard suited him so well, and his wide jaw made him look like an action hero. The desire to call him was almost overwhelming.

        Tad took a deep breath and locked the phone before he changed his mind. He put the device back into his pocket, and he took long, slow breaths to calm himself.

        Once he had a modicum of control, he sat back at his desk. He still had work to finish before the end of the day, as his client needed to review the logo design first thing in the morning. So he forced himself to get back on task.

        Yet, in the back of his mind, he dwelled on the handsome face of his old lover.

        "Hey, Chris!" Stanley Morris's excited voice broke through Christopher's focus as he examined the error codes for the Chevy Volt in the shop.

        Christopher looked over at the small, skinny guy as the fellow got to work and entered the garage. "Hey, Stanley." Chris went back to the computer, intent on simply getting on with his work.

        Stanley wasn't deterred. "What are you up to this weekend? Anything fun?" He smiled at Chris and stood close. A guy would have to be crazy to miss that Stanley was interested in him. Ever since Chris had revealed to the friendly man that he was no longer seeing Tad, he had been dogged in his attempts to squeeze social interaction out of his bigger coworker.

        Christopher sighed. "I think I'm going to pick up another shift." He shrugged. "I can use the money."

        Stanley's smile fell a bit. "Oh." He scuffed his feet on the cement floor of the shop, and he waved as another mechanic walked by. Once the other fellow was out of earshot Stanley continued, "Uh, well, if you don't, or, uh, even if you do! I mean, you still gotta eat, right?" He began to ramble, and he seemed to try and refocus. "Yeah. Uh, dinner. Dinner?" He grimaced, and Chris could tell that he was irritated at his fumbling. "Would you wanna get dinner?"

        Chris observed him. The younger man shifted his weight back and forth between both feet. His hands rubbed nervously on his mechanic jumper as he looked hopefully at Christopher. Stanley had never actually gotten up the nerve to ask him out before. Chris liked him. Maybe in a different scenario, there could have been some potential for more between them. But as things were, it wasn't in the cards.

        "Stanley, man. I'm sorry." Chris shook his head. "I'm just not interested in getting dinner with anybody." Chris smiled and patted Stanley's shoulder. "Thanks for asking. I'm flattered, but no."

        The disappointment on Stanley's face was complete. Chris felt bad about it, but he couldn't imagine trying to be anything like pleasant on a date. "Oh. Well, okay." Stanley nodded, and he sighed. "Well, thanks for not laughing in my face at least."

        Christopher frowned. "I'd never do that." He eyed Stanley. "Look, when I said I'm flattered, I mean it. I am." He continued, "I'm just not in the right state of mind for it. This is about me, not you."

        Stanley blinked, and his blue eyes showed that he welcomed the additional information. "Okay." He smiled a little. "Well, if you decide you wanna go out sometime, let me know." Then he waved a hand. "Oh, and if you just want to hang out, we could do that instead."

        "I will. Thanks for the offer, Stanley."

        The man smiled at Chris, then he wandered off to start his work. Chris watched Stanley go, a small smile on his face. It was always nice to feel desired, even if he wasn't able to reciprocate.

        Chris finished his shift and he headed home. It had finally stopped raining, though the world was still wet, and the air carried the enervating scent of petrichor - the smell of rain on earth and pavement. He parked next to the apartment building, then walked through the breezeway to his door. Christopher stood there, his keys in his hand, and he hesitated.

        He just wasn't ready to do exactly the same thing he had done for the past month. Chris wasn't ready to go in, eat a microwaved meal, and then go to sleep before seven.

        He deliberated. Then he unlocked his door and went inside.

        Chris peeled off his greasy work clothes and went into the bathroom. He washed the grease and grime off of his hands and then he got into the shower. Once finished with that, he dressed in jeans and a black, short-sleeved collared shirt.

        He turned to look at himself in profile in the mirror. Chris smirked at the way the jeans made his crotch look. When he wore jeans or slacks even a casual observer could tell he had more than average below the waist. Together with his broad shoulders, he cut a virile and handsome figure.

        Though the only man he wanted was the one he had given up. Chris frowned at his reflection. "What am I doing?" He exhaled and rubbed his face. Every day he remained apart from Tad made it harder to imagine going back. Every day made his self-imposed exile more real - more permanent.

        When he had left, Chris did so because he couldn't imagine staying. Tad had made a choice, and that choice forced Christopher's hand. He simply couldn't stand by while the repercussions from Tad's decision began to appear. Yet, now the cost of being apart from the man he loved was so high, Christopher didn't know if he could survive that either.

        Chris's eyes hardened. "You're not doing this tonight. You're going to go get something to eat. You're going to sit and do something you like to do."

        He stared for one more moment at himself and nodded. Then he turned away and walked to the living room. He gathered his woodworking project book, his pad of graph paper, and his pencil set. He put all of his supplies into his backpack. Then Christopher drove himself to sit at a little cafe in Old Town to enjoy dinner and the pleasant task of deciding on and planning a new woodworking project.

        Sunday dawned bright and clear. It was forecast to be a beautiful day, which suited Nate immensely.

        The aforementioned was ecstatic to finally have gotten through the week. As the six o'clock hour approached, he dressed in clothes specifically chosen to show off his body. He sported new, black jeans that showed off his small waist while they also hugged his rump and crotch. Though he was nothing special in front Nate had a great rear, and he knew it. He had on a tight, gray t-shirt that made his red hair, blue eyes, and pale skin pop in contrast. Nate also put small silver hoops in his ears, along with a heavy silver rope chain around his neck.

        The rest of the week hadn't been fun for Nate. Kent returned to work on Friday, and he didn't speak to Nate at all. Kent pointedly avoided the redhead whenever possible. That earned Nate more than one repudiatory glare from Liz.

        Though he didn't have to work again until Tuesday, so he wouldn't have to worry about it until then. Instead, he stressed over his date. Nate's stomach felt queasy with butterflies, and he laughed as he rubbed a hand over it. "Jeez, calm down." He blew out a breath. "It's just a date." His tongue appeared to wet his lips and his thoughts were on their own program. 'No. Not just a date. It's a date with Tad. Don't fuck it up.'

        Since the weather was clear, the plan was to meet at Tad's place, then they'd walk the few blocks over to Brick and Fire from there. That way, they could both have some wine, enjoy themselves, and not have to worry about driving.

        "I've got to get some drinks in that man. Loosen him up a bit." Nate checked himself in the bathroom mirror on the back of the door. He picked little bits of lint off of his pants and shirt, his hands moving all over his clothes, trying to make sure everything was as perfect as it could be. "God, I hope this goes well." There was a bit of a desperate edge in his voice.

        Nate stopped and he stared at himself. "What is wrong with you?" He shook his head. "This is just a guy." He stepped closer to the mirror, and he gave himself a lewd grin. "And like any other guy, he won't know what fucking hit him." Nate's grin slowly slipped until he looked at his reflection with a hopeful, yet uncertain expression. "Yeah. Yeah, I've got this. Right?"

        It was now five-thirty, and Nate picked up the cleaned, black coat he had planned to wear. He put it on, and he was out the door, down the stairs, and in his car in less than a minute. Nate made the drive quickly to Tad's and he parked in the same spot he had the last time he was there, across the street from the place. He got out and walked across the road to the doorway that led into Tad's section of the old, partitioned Victorian home.

        Tad must have kept watch for him because the door opened and the dark-haired man stepped outside. Tad's smile made Nate stop in his tracks, and he took the man in.

        He had dressed in a lovely, gray tweed coat. A red and blue flannel shirt showed under that, and a barely-seen, simple gray t-shirt made up his final layer. A pair of tan dockers covered his legs. Black low-rise boots and a black leather belt made up the remainder of his outfit. His short, glossy black hair was just long enough for him to style, and it was artfully messy and cute on his head.

        "Hello, Nate." He stepped close and motioned toward the south. "You ready for a little walk? It won't take long to get there."

        Nate blinked, and he unconsciously grinned. "Uh, yeah." He worked his jaw and nodded, then looked Tad up and down. "You look great."

        Tad smiled and he waggled his eyebrows. "You do too." Then he stepped up beside the redhead and smirked. "But, you knew that already, didn't you?"

        The two began to walk, and Nate chuckled. He shrugged. "Well, I'd do me. So either I look all right or I have low standards." He inhaled suddenly, acutely aware what he said could be taken as an insult.

        Tad roared with laughter while Nate painfully smiled along and hoped for the best. Tad shook his head, then he looked at Nate as the men crossed the next street. "Do you stick your foot in your mouth a lot, or is this just special for me?"

        Nate blushed and he chuckled at his misstep. "Uh, it's special for you."

        "I'm flattered." Tad seemed to enjoy the moment with Nate, so the redhead relaxed a bit.

        Luckily for Nate, no further faux pas happened on the way to Brick and Fire. They arrived five minutes early at the door of the bistro, and Nate stepped forward as they neared the door. "Allow me." He opened it for Tad and was rewarded with a full smile from the dark-haired man.

        They were seated immediately, and they settled in. Nate was happy they got one of the corner tables. Their table was comfortable, tucked away and semi-private, while the yellow light of candles and incandescent bulbs lit the place in a soft glow.

        Their server came by, a young lady with a tasteful emerald nose piercing, blonde hair, and green eyes to match her piercing.

        "Wine? You want to just get a bottle?" Tad looked at one of the menus, and he raised his eyes to Nate's. "I like red. Will that work for you?"

        "Yes." Nate smiled. "Whatever, uh, whatever you want is fine." He had meant to turn the sentence into a sultry purr, designed to get attention and hook Tad's interest. Instead, it came out as a sort of bumbling, awestruck agreement.

        Even while Nate inwardly cringed, Tad's smile grew, and he looked up at the server. "We'd like the Earthquake Petite Sirah. The bottle, please."

        The server left, and Tad turned again to gaze at Nate. His dark eyes caught the flickering light from the candle on the table and Nate swallowed the lump in his throat. 'God, he's handsome. Fuck.'

        Tad cocked his head, then he leaned forward. He stretched across the table and Nate watched as he gently closed his fingers over Nate's hand. Tad slowly pulled it a little closer to himself and both men looked down at their hands clasped loosely around one another.

        Nate's heart pounded in his chest and he felt nearly dizzy. The simple act of contact lit something in him, and he found himself completely unprepared for the way his mouth had gone dry, and at the sensation under his sternum.

        He looked up at Tad's face. The man wore an easy smile, and he shrugged. "Call me old fashioned," his fingers moved a bit against Nate's palm, "but it's not a date in my book if I don't ever get to hold your hand."

        Nate couldn't help but agree with a goofy and heartfelt smile.