Physical therapist Chase Arlington comes to Wright Patterson Air Force Base thinking his skills could be better used to serve the men who fought for his country. Career Staff Sergeant Gary Wilson lives day to day, deeply in the closet, passing the time until his transfer to Al Taji Air Base. When Gary meets Chase, the attraction is instantaneous, and grows fast.
When Gary reports for duty in Iraq, he leaves behind a distraught Chase and the looming worry of a dreaded phone call. Chase does his best not to imagine anything happening to the man he loves, holding out hope for the day Gary comes home.
Sometimes it takes every ounce of strength you possess to convince the one you love that no matter what, you are still the man you were, all man, and nothing less.
“Go deep! Deeper!”
Hearing the shouting, Chase Arlington paused to watch as a football flew through the crystal clear fall morning air, to fall into the arms of a running man. In seconds the poor guy got smashed from behind and leveled into the dewy grass of Schoolhouse Park’s football field.
He felt a tug on his arm. Peering down the leash, Chase said, “Yes? You have somewhere to go?”
His shepherd mix looked up at him, a pink tongue hanging out of his mouth while he panted.
“Hang on, Mutley. One more play.”
The dog made a sound of impatience and tugged again.
Nine men, some approaching middle age, four on one side, five on the other, were covered in grass stains and mud, appearing to be having the time of their lives as they played football like college kids.
A pass from one tall handsome man connected to another. A cheer went up as they celebrated a touchdown.
Though he did not know them, Chase shared their elation for the accomplishment.
“Okay. You’re obviously ready. Let’s go.” Chase resumed his jogging, Mutley keeping pace by his side.
The park was enormous, thirty-five acres of soccer field, baseball diamond, picnic grounds, and grass. Chase was glad he stumbled upon it. He was new to the area and still getting a feel for the neighborhood.
Kettering, Centerville, Washington Township, this was Middle America, Ohio, corn country, the land of the chain restaurant and SUV. A far cry from his urban lifestyle in trendy Manhattan.
But his private practice had dried up. HMO’s began making his work as a physical therapist one of misery as his fees became tied up in paperwork.
A friend e-mailed him the job listing for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Working for the air force had its perks. There was job security and he liked the idea of helping out the military. Liked it a lot.
Sweat pouring from his neck and face, Chase slowed down as he approached his silver Hyundai Tiburon GS. “Hang on, Mutt.” He panted as badly as his dog to catch his breath from the last sprint.
Chase opened the trunk and set out a bowl for his pet, filling it with water. Once Mutley was lapping at it, Chase drank the rest of the bottled water himself.
Chase used his t-shirt to wipe at his perspiration. Mutley was recuperating as well, sitting, his tongue running with water.
He was attempting to duplicate their same routine from the Big Apple. Every morning Chase took Mutley out running in Central Park. The only addition here in Ohio was the use of car on weekends. They ran a route right from the front door of Chase’s home on weekdays. Mutley already seemed to know the program but they were both adjusting to being on their own in a strange place.
Finally feeling less sweaty from the cool breeze that quivered the leaves of the changing trees, Chase made a move to enter the car. Mutley stood, staring at him.
Chase smiled at his sweet expression. “Come here.” He patted his chest. Instantly Mutley stood on his hind legs and pressed his big paws into him.
Chase gave him a good ear scratching. “We’ll get used to it, buddy. Hang in there.” He avoided a lick to his face and nudged the dog back down. The car door tugged open, Chase adjusted the towels he used to cover the bucket seats and had Mutley jump into the passenger’s side. The obedient pooch sat comfortably, waiting, licking at the window glass.
After he started the engine, Chase lowered the windows for Mutley to stick his head out and feel the wind as they drove.
* * * *
Once he was home and showered, he ate his breakfast and gave Mutley a slab of rawhide to gnaw on.
Sipping his coffee while reading the Dayton Daily News, Chase couldn’t help but smile at the ‘down home’ coverage of the media, which included corn festivals and a spate of local burglaries.
Unfortunately nothing compared to the New York Times and its international flair. Chase simply didn’t know if he could be happy here. Here. In corn country.
Mutley adjusted his paws on the strip of rawhide, making short work of it in his long canines. “You have a backyard, right?” Chase asked him. “You didn’t have a backyard before.”
Mutley moved his big brown eyes to meet his but didn’t stop his chewing.
“A yard is a good thing. No more being cooped up inside all day while I’m at work.”
Mutley let out a snort in disinterest, getting a better grip on his snack. It was down to a pasty hunk of goo in seconds, which Mutley began to stuff in his mouth to swallow whole.
Chase turned back to the newsprint under his elbows, as he recalled the men playing football. He’d love to get in on that game for so many reasons. He loved sports, and thought the men were exceptional.
“Are there gay men in Dayton? Aren’t we all over the place?” He laughed, finishing is coffee. Of course we are. Just gotta sniff us out.
The snack consumed, Mutley licked his lips neatly and gave Chase his undivided attention.
“Any suggestions as to what we should do today?”
The dog tilted his head curiously.
“We’ve got a yard, may as well use it.” Chase rose up, set his mug in the sink and left through the back door, Mutley in pursuit. Finding his chewed up Frisbee, Chase tossed it to him, wishing he had already established a network of friends. It sucked living here, but he didn’t want to have to change careers in order to move back to New York. He had to give this a try.