James, retired from the police after a traumatic car accident, has been living the isolated life with his partner Tyler for five years now. It's peaceful and routine, everything he needed to recover, everything they both need to be happy. But when James' old police (and occasional sex) partner shows up looking for help after her own disaster, all three of them might have to rethink not just what they need, but what they want.
“James?” It was, James had discovered, very strange to be able to look up through one’s roof to talk to someone up there; it was also quite a pleasure to look up and find one’s shirtless boyfriend looking back down. Tyler grinned. “There’s a car just turned into the drive.”
Living in the middle of nowhere had its disadvantages, particularly in the winter, but one advantage was that they could go for days without seeing anyone. Even the mailman tended to just leave the mail at the end of the long winding drive up to their place, only driving all the way to the door when they had a large package, or sometimes if it was raining.
“A regular car?” James asked.
Tyler shielded his eyes with the hand not holding a hammer, and nodded. “Looks like. You want me to come down?”
James glanced out of the bedroom window, even though it looked to the woods at the back of their property and wouldn’t show him anything useful. “Probably just a lost tourist. I’m fine."
“Sure?” Tyler looked back to the road, then down to frown at James. “I can give directions as well as you.”
“You don’t even know which way North is. I’m fine.”
“I’m not—” Tyler cut himself off with a laugh. “Okay never mind, it’s definitely tourists. They’re driving a pink car, looks like bubblegum.”
James smiled, but that struck a chord of memory, distant but definitely familiar. “A Bug?”
“Good guess.” Tyler’s frown deepened, probably in response to James’ expression. “How did you know that?”
“I know that car.” He’d known it five years ago, before he moved out to the wreck of a house (that he hadn’t even known his mom owned before she left it to him in her will). More than that, he’d known the owner, and presumably the driver, of that car. It had to be her, even though he’d never given her his new address. Anything else was too much of a coincidence. “I’ll be fine,” he repeated, before Tyler could ask, or make good on his clear intention to climb down off the roof. “I just might be a little while.”
“James…” James lifted a hand, the bedroom ceiling just low enough that Tyler could brush their fingertips together when he reached down. James wanted to press a kiss to those fingers, the calluses that Tyler had built up while they worked on the house together, the bitten down fingernails and the long scratch down the back of his left hand from the last time they’d gone walking in the woods. Even with the low ceilings, the distance was too far, and anyway, he could just, if he listened, hear the approaching car. There wasn’t time for kisses.
“I’ll be fine,” he said again, drawing his hand back slowly. “You concentrate on the roof; I’ll deal with the visitor.” He could feel Tyler gearing up to argue some more, and cut that off by ducking out of the bedroom and heading down the two flights of stairs to ground level. Shadow, the only kitten left of the last batch that had been born under the shed, made a disgruntled noise when James nudged her away from the patch of sun behind the door, but still deigned to follow him out into the yard.
James spent large chunks of every day holed up inside and today was no different, so that the bright heat of the sun when he stepped outside was a shock. Unlike Tyler, whose brown hair was rapidly approaching waist-length, James kept his buzzed army short, and regretted his lack of hat when he stepped away from the shade of the house. He could hear the car approaching, though it hadn’t yet rounded the final curve of the drive, and was hidden by the half-rotten barn that James still hadn’t gotten around to pulling down. The yard itself was clear and tidy for once, his car and Tyler’s truck pulled over to one side. The delivery of roofing supplies was stacked and tarped within easy reach for Tyler as he worked through them, even the wood stock was ordered into three piles based on where it was in the process of becoming part of the actual woodpile. With Shadow sitting at his feet, and while he was wearing old, worn-knee jeans and a soft gray shirt that had long since lost its collar, James was well aware of the old-timey farm picture that their visitor would see when she pulled into the yard. He couldn’t help thinking how much easier life would be if that picture reflected reality. For all that, he had zero desire to get into farming.
The roar of an engine being gunned to make it out of the final sloping curve in the driveway broke into his thoughts, and a moment later a bright pink VW Bug swung onto the long final stretch, a cloud of dust kicking up in its wake. At that distance James couldn’t see the driver, but he didn’t need to. He’d parked next to that car every day for three years and four months, until the accident that had driven him away from the job he’d expected to spend the rest of his life in.
As the car got closer, he could hear music, something bright and poppy that couldn’t be the radio, not out there; all they picked up was right wing talk radio that James could barely stand five minutes of. He caught a flash of dark hair first, and then the bright green of her top, before the car slowed as it drew into the yard. It came to a neat stop parallel to the fence, just far enough from the house that Shadow didn’t break for cover. The music cut out, leaving behind just the ticking of the cooling engine. James wondered if he should call out; if he should go over there; if he could still retreat into the house and ask Tyler to deal with her. He couldn’t, of course, and even if he could have, it was too late, the door opening and the driver stepping out. She was dressed just as he remembered her—low-heeled practical boots, bootcut blue jeans, and a bright green vest top that matched the bandana pulling back her long dark hair. Her face was the only thing changed; older, of course, but more than that, her eyes dark and heavy, cast down so that she was looking up at him through her eyelashes, her whole body screaming uncertainty that he’d never seen on her. She didn’t move away from the car, just leaned against it, keys jangling in the hand not tucked into her pocket, as she said nothing. Waiting for him, then.
James risked a couple of steps toward her, unsure why it felt so tentative, so much like it might be wrong. “Hello, Megan,” he said quietly.
“James,” she said, her voice cracking. Then her shoulders shook and she folded in on herself, one hand pressing to her mouth to not quite stifle a sob. James took a handful more steps toward her, instinct more than anything else, but before he could reach out, she held up the hand with the keys in it, half-defensive, half just asking him to stop. He took a step back that was as instinctive as the steps toward her had been.
Her eyes, when she looked up, were bright with tears; her voice, though, was entirely steady, as though the crack and the sob had never happened. “You said that I was always welcome, if I ever needed you. Was that true?”
“Yes,” James said, not even having to think about it. “Of course.”
“Is it still true?”
That was a more complicated question, but it had, at least in the moment, just as simple an answer. “Yes. Of course.”
She nodded, swallowing hard. “That’s good,” she said. “Because, James, I really need you.”