At forty-three, Jay McGhee doesn't know how much longer he'll be able to withstand the physical rigors necessary for active duty in the Roseville, Indiana Fire Department, but that doesn't mean he's willing to be put out to pasture just yet. For most of his adult life, he's had to place his needs on the back burner, including the fact that he's a gay man in a small rural community. His career is not going to take the same route.
When twenty-seven-year-old Frank Kaplan breezes into town, Jay ignores his immediate attraction to the younger man. After all, he's an old pro at pretending. The long-haired, tattooed drifter shouldn't even be his type, but the friendship they strike up satisfies a space in Jay's life he never realized was empty.
Two men. Two lives in flux.
“You must have family,” Frank said. “You grew up here.”
Jay shook his head. “Not around here anymore. My folks retired and moved to Florida a few years back. I’ve got cousins out in Fort Wayne, but otherwise, it’s just me now.” He used the family in Fort Wayne excuse to explain his infrequent trips there. So far, nobody had been any the wiser.
“What’ll happen when you have to retire?”
“What do you mean?”
Frank lifted a shoulder in a casual shrug. “Well, you can’t be a fireman forever. You have to stop someday. What do you want to do then?”
He wanted to not think about that someday. For a split, irrational second, he wondered if Frank had overheard what Dr. Gorham had said to him about taking it easy, but that was impossible. Frank hadn’t even been in the office.
“I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” he said. His favorite noncommittal answer. “But that’s not happening any time soon. First, I have to figure out how I’m going to survive this barbecue on Saturday.”
Frank laughed at that, his teeth flashing white in the darkness. “Well, if you need any help, I’m more than happy to pitch in.”
Saying yes was inviting disaster. There were more than enough men at the station to make help unnecessary, men who were familiar with where everything was, knew everybody who’d attend, and most importantly, didn’t feature in Jay’s fantasies on a nightly basis. Frank needed to socialize with people his own age, like Laci Gorham, for instance. She’d picked him out of the crowd for a reason. Maybe she liked him, or at least, liked the look of him. Jay should make sure they had a chance of bumping into each other on Saturday instead of taking advantage of an unexpected offer.
The only problem with that was the idea of Laci and Frank together set his teeth on edge. If they were going to hook up, Jay didn’t want to be the facilitator.
“We can always use an extra set of hands.” His voice stayed even, a fact he was proud of. “But what about Olive?”
“She already knows everybody. And she definitely doesn’t need me to help her around. You saw how she was swinging that screwdriver.”
Together, they laughed. “Point taken. Okay. Be at the station at seven sharp.” Frank’s brows shot up. “Seven? In the morning?”
“You think we’re having our barbecue in the middle of the night? But if that’s too early --”
“No, no, that’s okay. I’m just ...” He grinned, sheepishly. “I’ve gotten used to not having to get up. I guess I’m getting spoiled.”
“Well, I’ll whip you back into shape on Saturday,” Jay joked. “And on that note ...” He stood, this time unwilling to get swayed into staying. “Don’t go breaking that garbage disposal again. I don’t think my ego can take getting bested by Olive two times in one week.”
Frank followed him off the porch, their steps whispering across the cool grass. His arm brushed once or twice against Jay’s, and the heat made him imagine the tattoo bleeding from Frank’s skin to his. A reminder. Of what? No regrets. For whatever reason, Jay was glad Frank could say that, even if he thought Frank would outgrow it sooner rather than later. Life had a way of doing that to people. Frank hadn’t lived enough yet to be able to have any true regrets anyway.
“I’m glad you stuck around today,” Frank said when they reached the Toyota. “Today was good.”
“Yeah, it was.” And Jay meant it, though his palms sweated, hungry to reach through the darkness and grasp at Frank’s hard body. “You’ll have to hang out at my place next time. I can’t bake like Olive, but there’s a reason I’m the one who’s in charge of the barbecue.”
“I’ll remember that.” He held the door when Jay opened it, his strong body outlined in vague shadows. The story of his life, if Jay felt like being philosophical about it. “It’s nice to know there’s somewhere I’m welcome.”
Jay slid behind the wheel. His jeans tightened and rubbed against his aching cock, enough to make him squirm a little. Frank was more welcome than he realized.
With a smile and a wave, Frank stepped back, giving Jay room to leave. He was still visible, an etching of negative space, when Jay glanced in his rearview mirror as he drove away. The last thing he saw was that muscular arm fall to his side, its message emblazoned on Jay’s mind’s eye.