Robin Paley, a Vietnam vet, and Hendrix Higgins, a former teacher who witnessed a school shooting, become trapped together during a storm in March of 2001, when Hendrix, now a computer tech, arrives to fix Robin’s only source of contact with the outside world.
Discovering they have much in common, an afternoon of bonding leads to more. When Robin admits he’ll never contact Hendrix again, however, a heated argument ensues. Hendrix fights hard to move on, while Robin seems to want to stay stuck.
They angrily part ways, Hendrix telling Robin to call him if he ever wants to live again. When Robin finally reaches out, he fears it may be too late. Has Hendrix moved on?
“Sounds rather nasty out there,” Robin stated, as their tummies met in the tiny hallway, despite Robin’s best effort to suck in his gut. “Oops. Cramped quarters.” Robin kept the tone light, but Hendrix still blanched. He didn’t answer back, but rather nervously chewed on his already scarred lower lip, something Robin recognized as a nervous habit, one he himself had at times. The kid practically bit through it when Mags’s huge nose touched his hand as he and Robin broke free and passed. When Mags added tongue, Hendrix’s stunning hazel eyes, behind the thick lenses, rolled up into his skull.
“The thunder makes him uneasy. Plus, I’m certain he’s wondering who you are. Neither of us is accustomed to company.” Robin was suddenly a chatterbox. So many words in one day were making him hoarse. It had to be some sort of record, though he did speak to Magnus Renegade more often than he’d care to admit. “Sorry. I’ll desist. And we’ll go sit in the --”
To Robin’s surprise, Hendrix reached toward the dog. “It’s just noise, big boy,” he soothed. Hendrix actually leaned in closer, and when he stroked down Mag’s entire back, his hand met Robin’s, already there. “Got to face our fears.” Hendrix swallowed hard. “Ain’t that right, sir?”
Sir? Was Hendrix going military or ageist? Robin wondered.
“Everything checked out in --”
A loud crack of thunder made everyone jump.
“Fuck! Sorry, sir. Inappropriate language.” Hendrix scrunched up his adorable face. “I’m not too fond of this weather either.”
“It’s just noise,” Robin repeated. “Right?” He placed his hand atop Hendrix’s, still on the dog. “And call me Robin. ‘Sir’ is for drill sergeants and old men.” Great! Now he was flirting -- once again, sort of.
“It didn’t sound like thunder, though,” Hendrix said quietly.
And it hadn’t. It was one of those snaps, the kind after a lightning strike, the kind that sounded like gunfire, like in a war-torn jungle where kids fought for freedom, or a high school hallway where another generation sought misplaced vengeance. And then another one boomed.
Robin would bet Hendrix thought the same thing. He looked to him, and Hendrix took a breath.
“Sorry ... Robin.”
“Don’t be. I get it.”
Young Hendrix was a bundle of nerves, just like Robin, only instead of blathering uncontrollably, he cursed, and also sweated. His yellow shirt, under each pit, was almost as orange as his cap.
“Is the problem on the laptop only?” Hendrix asked, his voice still shaky. “It could be as simple as the Ethernet cord. Did you try buying a new one?”
“I ... I don’t get out much,” Robin answered. “Sorry.” It was his turn for regret.
“No problem.” Hendrix offered a strained smile resembling a colon and a slash as he squeezed past again to head back toward the bedroom. “Sometimes a loose connection on one PC can mess up another, if they’re both plugged into the same modem,” he said over his shoulder. “I have spare cords in my bag -- which I left back here. I’ll hook you up with a coup --” Apparently slightly more prepared for the next round of thunder, Hendrix only twisted his neck and balled his hands into fists when it boomed. Mags, on the other hand, headed for the perceived safety of the bed, pushing right past Hendrix to get there.
Robin pointed. “I better ...” He followed Mags, getting to Hendrix’s bag before Hendrix. “Here ya go.” He handed it off. Their hands brushed once again, and then Robin pulled away and shut the door with a deep, ambivalent sigh.
Ten minutes later, the job was apparently finished. “All set,” Hendrix loudly announced. “It was the --”
“How much do I owe you?” Robin cut him off, padding from the bedroom barefoot, his wallet in hand, eager to send the kid on his way.
“Umm ...” Hendrix’s eyes rolled back again, this time for mathematical purposes, Robin assumed. “A handshake,” he said. “It’s on the house.”