Thomas and Carter argued again on the way to the party.
Focused on each other, they drove through a stop sign, almost broadsiding a Providence Bakery delivery van. Thomas, driving, swerved right and drove the car over a curb. Carter, in the passenger seat, braced his palms against the dashboard and prepared for an impact that never came. A bottle of wine, their gift for Warren and Ed, bolted forward from the rear floorboard, shot under the passenger seat, and wedged itself between Carter’s size twelve Oliver Cabell sneakers.
The oblivious delivery driver continued down the road. Thomas and Carter sat frozen, breathing hard. A moment passed, then two. Thomas pounded his fists on the steering wheel, put the car in self-driving mode, and crossed his arms over his chest, sulking. Carter bent down and fished for the wine bottle.
For the rest of the drive: not one word.
* * *
At Warren and Ed’s party: lights strung from pine to pine, balloons bobbing from bushes, and a not-bad local band playing covers of eighties tunes on the pier.
A hundred people laughed, hugged, air-kissed. Identical waiters—black hair, blue eyes, athletic builds—proffered flutes of Prosecco and trays of bite-size barbecue sandwiches.
The car pulled off the dirt road and onto a thick carpet of pine needles. Thomas glanced at Carter. We’re late.
Carter snatched the bottle of wine. Not my fault.
They followed the sloping path toward the lake house’s sprawling jumble of gables and decks. As they walked under the banner (“Celebrating Warren and Ed—30 Years of Love”), several couples spotted them, bounded toward them, shouted their names.
Hugs for Carter, Thomas thought. He was right. Rick and Stephen, the couple who were always on vacation, squeezed Carter hard and long, despite having seen him last weekend. Alan and Quinn, the May-December pair with twenty years between them, did the same.
The men greeted Thomas, too, but with tight smiles and terse waves, except for Quinn, the gray-haired elder of the group, who gave Thomas a stiff handshake without making eye contact.
“Good to see you two … together,” Rick chirped, saluting them with his drink.
Thomas glared at him.
“Oh my God,” Stephen said. “We’re just back. From Chiang Mai.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “You must go.”
Carter, head and shoulders taller than everyone else, beamed down at them. “Gimme the one best moment.”
“Riding the elephants. Through the jungle. Eating sticky rice.” Stephen put his hand over his heart. “You must go.”
Carter grinned. “Sounds amazing.”
Thomas fidgeted. “I need a drink.”
“Get whatever you want,” Quinn said, arching a gray eyebrow. “As you always seem to do.”
Without a word, Thomas set out for the bar.
* * *
On the way, Thomas ran a gauntlet of friends and acquaintances. Most, spotting him, scanned the sky for passing clouds or studied the plates of food in their hands. A few nodded or spoke. Lawrence—the needy, perpetual dieter—looked right at Thomas and mouthed the words, “Are you okay, sweetie?”
Thomas dodged them all, not stopping until he reached the lakeside bar. The twenty-something kid behind the counter—a bear of a guy, as tall as Carter but carrying a lot more weight—gave Thomas a wink. “Lemme guess: an IPA guy.”
Thomas shook his head. “Gin and tonic.”
“Hmmm,” the kid said. “Tops usually drink IPAs.”
“Only bottoms drink gin.” The kid waited a beat, then burst out laughing. “I’m just fucking with ya.” He offered Thomas a huge paw of a hand. “I’m Tevin. Like Kevin, but with a T.”
A firm handshake. “Thomas. Like … Thomas, I guess.”
Tevin tossed ice in a glass, doused it with gin. “Okay, Thomas like Thomas.” He looked Thomas square in the eyes. “I kind of like Thomas, too.”
Thomas narrowed his eyes. “You must work for tips.”
Tevin laughed again—a big, genuine laugh that lit up his face and shook his belly. “Dude, I’m no bartender. I was just helping myself to the beer when this hot, curly-haired, older bottom walked up and started bossing me around.” He garnished the drink with a lime and presented it with a flourish. “Fortunately for us, I’m kinda into that.”
Thomas returned the laugh and took the drink. “I’m probably five years older than you. Ten at most.”
Tevin cracked open an IPA and waggled his eyebrows as he poured it into a frosted mug. “I’m right about the rest, though.”
Thomas ran his free hand through his hair. “I gotta get back.”
The younger man came around the bar: sunlight in his beard, grinning that intoxicating grin. He clinked their glasses together. “Urgent craving for cheese and crackers?”
Thomas sipped his drink. Heavy on the gin, like he liked it. “Got a husband.” He held up his left hand, pointed to his ring. “Nine years.”
Tevin drew close, his size making Thomas look less like a man and more like a skinny kid. The younger man rested a huge, gentle hand on the shorter man’s shoulder. “Thomas like Thomas, you know the secret to living your best life?”
Tevin leaned in, his lips nuzzling the most sensitive part of Thomas’ ear. “Doing whatever the hell you want.” He pulled away, letting his lips graze Thomas’ cheek, then lingered with his lips much too close to Thomas own. “I want you to go off in the woods with me and boss me around some more.”
The moment hung between the two men: a magnetism, a vibration, a heat shimmer in the humid air. Thomas felt a familiar surge of raw desire: the simple, animal need to feel another man’s skin against his own.
“Let’s do this,” Thomas said.
And then, right behind Thomas, two men screamed.[Back to Main Page] – [Go on to Chapter Two]