Connor’s week-long camping vacation in eastern Oregon takes a turn in the wrong direction when his car breaks down at a scenic location in the middle of nowhere. Things quickly get back on track when Jared, a local mechanic, passes by, offering to give him a ride into the small nearby town and fix up his car.
Jared, a gay, closeted mechanic from a small town, finds himself quickly attracted to Connor, the middle school math teacher from the big city on the other side of the state. A quick, sexy fling leads both men into lustful desire for more, but reality hammers home as Connor’s car is fixed and he is due back home for work.
How do two men living 300 miles apart, one out and proud in a big city, and the other closeted in a small rural town, come together to build something that resembles a real relationship? Can the two find patience with each other and the hours of highway between them, or do they give into the frustrations of physical and emotional distances as they struggle to build a relationship that can work for both of them?
As the deluge started, Connor decided that his vacation was quickly becoming less and less of an enjoyable experience. Part of his change in attitude stemmed from his poor choice of clothing, albeit, at the time it seemed like it was a standard choice for a sunny August day. But there he was in a t-shirt, pair of cargo shorts, and sneakers, walking along the road with his dog in a rain storm that would have stimulated Noah to get back out there and work on that boat.
Connor had left Portland on that morning with his rig packed full of a wide assortment of camping gear and outdoor-enjoyment paraphernalia that would help him facilitate his week-long camping/ relaxing/ hiking trip in eastern Oregon. He had everything from a tent, to camp stove, to a thick sleeping pad, to a cooler of beers, some steaks, a couple of bottles of wine, a hammock, and two lawn chairs, so he could choose which one he wanted as the time to lounge presented itself. Heck, seemed like the only open space left in the car was the passenger seat up front, left open for his copilot, a sweet black lab, Kiera.
He was looking forward to an enjoyable week of camping, relaxing, and exploring some lakes on the east side of the state he had called home for a couple of years. And, up until this point in the day, it had been a great time. Connor and Kiera had headed out of Portland, going east on Interstate 84. Eventually, they turned off the interstate system in favor of the more scenic and twisting state highways that wound themselves through the trees and mountains. The Blue Mountains were full of pine trees, scenic vistas, and long open stretches of empty, or almost empty, roads.
The eastern Oregon camping extravaganza took a slight downturn as Connor and Kiera spilled out of the mountains into the Baker Valley. The otherwise trusted vehicular companion, Connor’s Hyundai Santa Fe, started to buck and snort a bit as he tried to regain the full cruising speed afforded by the flat valley. It was nice to be out of the slow twisting pathways of the mountains and into a place where Connor could put his foot into it a bit, to beat the descending sun to a camp site for the night. But his vehicle was having none of it. The lurching, bucking, and general unresponsiveness of the vehicle got worse and worse over a few short miles.
At a scenic stop sign at nowhere in particular, the car just flat out refused to go on any further. There it sat, waiting at the stop sign, revving up the motor whenever Connor put his foot on the gas, but staying stolidly in place, like it was a large boulder in a small stream. Connor did the only thing he could do. He got out of the car and opened the hood, took a look around, and quickly decided he didn’t know anything about under the hood except for the oil dipstick and the windshield washer fluid basin. He checked the oil, which looked about right. He didn’t check the level of the windshield washer fluid, assuming the car could still move without washer fluid. So, he put his car into neutral, turned the steering over to Kiera, and pushed his car over to the side of the road, out of the way of anyone else driving by.
The overly expensive touch screen on Connor’s new smart phone quickly showed “No Service.” So, he dug around in the back of the car, pulled out some socks and sneakers to wear, and proceeded to put them on. Then he shucked the flip-flops he had been wearing into the car, pulled out Kiera’s leash and got ready to walk to the nearest house and ask to borrow the phone. Connor did take a quick look at the sweat shirt slung over the back seat, and then into the sky, and decided that he would go without it and enjoy the fine eastern Oregon afternoon. Murphy’s Law and all, right?
The walk was very nice. The day was warm, almost hot really, sunny, and enjoyable as Connor and Kiera walked along the road. And it was a quiet road. There were a few farms off in the distance that Connor could see, but there must be some other access road, because he found no driveways or pathways. No one had driven by him in a while, an added bonus of the quiet country roadside. But all was good. Connor and Kiera were enjoying their walk and the first day of their eastern Oregon trip.
Connor was walking east, so the sun was to his back, as was the massive thunder cell that came out from behind the mountain and started bearing down on his exact location. In fact, he didn’t think to look back until the sun was blotted out. He looked back to see what the sudden change was about. What he saw was like some vision from a sci-fi movie. A gigantic, purple looming storm seemingly filled half the sky and was coming up on him fast. The clouds spiraled up and up, until the very top flattened out and seemed to lean into Connor’s direction. He could see the thick, dark rain bands hanging below the cloud. Right as he started to think about his chances of dashing back to the car, he felt that first gust of wind slap into his face, with just a hint of moisture on it, foreshadowing the afternoon’s main attraction.
Connor thought about making a quick run back to the car, but then he thought better of it. The storm was close enough that it must have eaten the car by now, so wouldn’t provide any sanctuary for the moment. Oh well, Connor figured he would dry out eventually and could justify skipping a shower for the next few days, as he was about to be soaked and scrubbed by the eastern Oregon monsoon.
And when it came, it came. The wind blew steady and hard as the storm approached. Then the rain started. And when it started, it was like someone turned a fire hose onto Connor and specifically drenched every possible surface on his body. The black lab fared well during all of it. Although she was a bit of a princess in the rain, she was also a water dog. A quick shake of her coat and all was good for her. Connor on the other hand was immediately soaked all the way through. Every shred of his existence was absolutely saturated. The lightning and thunder of the storm were cool to witness, if a bit close. How many seconds from flash to bang again?
Connor and Kiera trudged on while the wind and thunder spent themselves, and the rain continued to fall so hard it was bouncing back up off the road surface. Mercifully, somebody drove up from behind him just about the time Connor was looking and feeling at an all-time miserable low.
The truck that drove up stopped and the driver, a youngish looking man rolled down the window.
“Nice afternoon for a walk with your dog, eh?” the guy asked.
“Well, you know how it goes. When she wants to go on a walk, I gotta go. Right girl?” was Connors response. His half witty comeback was only partially deflated by having to brush the water out of his face several times in order to see or speak.
“Oh sure,” the guy played along. “I guess I’ll be on my way then. Well, unless you needed a ride or something?”
“Hell yes!” was Connor’s reply.
Before he knew it, Connor was in the truck’s passenger seat, Kiera in his lap, looking every bit the drowned rat. They must have both looked like drowned rats. Or maybe Connor looked like a frat boy participating in a wet t-shirt contest, as his drenched clothing was all stuck to his body and oozing water onto the seat of the truck. Kiera, for her part, also emitted that time honored wet-dog smell throughout the cab of the truck.
“I’m Jared,” the driver said.
“Nice to meet you, Jared. I’m Connor. And this one is Kiera,” Connor said as he scratched Kiera on the head.
Jared said his hello to Kiera, and she promptly tried to stand on Connor’s lap and shake off. The application of flying water and dog hair to the interior of the truck was a nice conclusion to the round of introductions.
Connor tried to explain why he was out for his stroll. “My car broke down a bit further along the road. Figured I would walk until I found a place to call a tow truck. Suppose you could help me find a place to make a call?”
“I can do you one better than that. I’m happy to take you into town to a little shop that has the best mechanic in Baker, and a he is a hell of a nice guy. His name is Jared. He even has a tow truck to come back out and get your car.”
“Well, I suppose, if his rates aren’t too high, I’ll consider it,” Connor replied. “Any chance I can get a discount if I detail the inside of his truck and remove the water and dog hair?”
Jared chuckled. “We’ll see, we’ll see.”
They drove toward Baker City and Jared’s shop, making small talk along the way into town, about ten miles.
“You’re really a mechanic?” Connor asked, to pass the time on the drive. “Good karma for me!”
“I was born and bred in the shop,” Jared answered. “It was originally my dad’s business, and he passed it off to me upon retirement. I’m the tow truck driver, mechanic, accountant, and janitor. There are just enough clients and business to keep things going, without being swamped.”
Jared had taken off earlier in the day to go to a friend’s farm to check on her horses while she was out of town. He was on the return trip when he found Connor, miserable on the side of the road.
“How about you?” Jared asked. “Where are you from? What bring you to Baker?”
“I’m a middle school math teacher in Portland,” Connor said. “Just set out on a week-long camping trip. Now, looks like I’ll be getting to know the locals and offerings of Baker City, instead of the forests of the Elkhorn Mountains.”
They pulled up to Jared’s shop and went inside. The building was small, but seemed to have all of the equipment that Jared would need. The place was clean and well organized. The tow truck was parked in an otherwise empty bay of the garage.
“I’ll just be a minute, and then we can go. I need to make a phone call and grab the keys to the truck,” Jared said as he headed toward the office. “Make yourself at home.”
Connor let Kiera off her leash and she set about to sniff and explore the shop, in the ways that dogs do. Connor was wet, really wet. He had it all, the squishy shoes, and cold, clammy clothes that stuck to his body like wet tissues. He quickly decided that he had had enough of the squishy shoes. He leaned up against the tow truck and kicked them off. There was a drainage grate in the floor, and Connor dumped out as much water as he could from the expensive running shoes. Since that felt a little satisfying he decided to wring out his socks as well. Then he pulled off his shirt and tried to wring as much of the water out of it as he could. Then he laid his shirt aside and figured he might as well try to wring out his shorts as well.
And that was how Jared found him as he came around the side of the tow truck after making his call. There was Connor, standing in his soaked boxer briefs, trying to ring as much water as he could out of his cargo shorts. Connor was tall, at least six feet, and fairly muscled for a teacher. His brown hair was all slicked down from the rain, and Jared could see a tattoo starting on one of his shoulders and then wrapping around a bicep. A bicep that was now fully flexed as it tried to squeeze errant water drops from the fabric. Since when did teachers get tall, young and muscular?
“Uhh, nice glove box there, Connor,” Jared said flippantly, as he gestured toward Connor’s crotch.
“Yeah, this is awkward,” came Connor’s reply. “No getting around it. I’m almost naked, standing around in your shop looking like I’m an old lady in some developing country doing her laundry at the creekside. I was, ahh…”
“Okay, Granny. While you don’t look like any of the old ladies I’m used to seeing, I will cut you some slack, on account of your offer to detail my truck.” Jared had a big smirk on his face. “I have some extra clothes I can lend you, so you can be a little drier for our ride out and back. No extra charge!”
Jared went to a cabinet and pulled out a white polyester t-shirt and a pair of dark grey pants. He handed them over to Connor. The shirt had an embroidered patch with Jared’s name on it.
“Sorry, no underwear. Guess you’ll just have to go commando,” Jared said with another smirk.
“Boy, aren’t you the most smart-mouthed tow truck driver this side of the Snake River?” was Connor’s retort. “I’ll go a little damp, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, I don’t mind. But you should watch out. Don’t get fungus or something down there. I’m pretty sure AAA doesn’t cover that kind of thing on their insurance policies,” Jared said as he flashed a big smile. “Let’s mount up and go get your car.”
The drive out was a quick ordeal. The massive thunder storm had moved on, and the sun was back out in the sky. Connor explained what had happened to his car as they drove along the road out of town. Jared listened, asked a few questions, and decided he needed to do some investigation before he made any judgments about what had happened.
They loaded up the car and headed back up to the shop, where they deposited it into a bay of the garage. By the time they had unloaded the car it was pushing into evening, so they agreed that Jared would look at it in the morning. Connor grabbed his still wet cargo shorts off a workbench and pulled out his cell phone.
“Crap!” echoed out of Connor’s mouth and across the bay.
“What’s up now?” Jared queried.
“I was going to get the number of the shop and program it into my phone, but seems like this high-tech smart phone mini-computer disagrees with being drenched in water. It appears to be done.”
“Yeah, guess you should have stuck with the cheap, free version of the phone they offered you,” was Jared’s reply.
“What? And be disconnected from the world when I need it?” Connor responded in mock surprise.
“I see you’re having good success with that interconnectedness as of right now,” was Jared’s reply. “Seems like I’m going to do everything else for you tonight, so how about we swing by my house and we can stick your phone in a bag of dry rice for the night. That is supposed to be the trick to dry out inundated technological gadgets, if I remember correctly. Then, I can take you over to the hotel and you can get yourself a room for the night. I’ll take a look at your car in the morning, and you can swing by about lunch for the report.”
“I feel like I need to detail the inside of your truck and also sweep up the shop to balance out all of the good service, “Connor said.
“Oh, just wait until you get the bill,” was Jared’s cheeky reply.