Shy, geeky Gil has been hiding his attraction to his sexy baseball player housemate, Dustin, by being rude to him. His plan seems to be working—until the temperature climbs and Dustin begs to sleep in Gil’s air-conditioned bedroom.
Gil intends to turn him down flat, but somehow finds himself agreeing. He thinks the night will be torture, but a lot can happen on a hot summer night…
Dustin came into Gil’s room the way he always did, without knocking. He brushed his overly long blond curls out of his eyes. “God, it’s hot!”
Gil turned toward the door, put his book on the desk, and scowled at his housemate. “Do you barge in on everyone, or do you save that for me?”
Dustin gave him a puzzled look. “What? You were just reading.”
Grrr. “That’s not the point!” Gil wasn’t sure how many times he’d lectured Dustin about knocking first. Obviously his words had gone unheard. Why bother getting into it again? He sighed. “Never mind. Did you have a reason for coming in here?”
“Yeah. It’s hot.”
Gil rolled his eyes. “I think we’ve established that, Dustin. What do you want?”
Dustin’s expression morphed into the puppy-dog look he always put on when he wanted something. With his big blue eyes, blond curls, and near-angelic features, the sad face almost always worked. “Well…”
Luckily for Gil, he was one of the few people who seemed to be immune to Dustin’s charms. At least that’s what he kept reminding himself. He narrowed his eyes at his housemate. “What?”
The other man aimed a hopeful smile straight at Gil. “I was thinking since you’re the only one with air conditioning, you might be willing to let me stay in here tonight.”
Having chosen just that moment to take a drink from his bottle of water, Gil choked and began to cough. No. No way! Dustin crossed the room and patted his back, a little too hard, until Gil waved him away. When he was able to speak again, he told his housemate what he thought in no uncertain terms. “No.”
“Aw, come on, Gil. The fan in my room broke. It’s like two hundred degrees in there! Even at night I can’t stay cool.”
* * * * *
Five hours later, Gil had showered, brushed his teeth, and put on a T-shirt and shorts. He was just climbing into bed when the door opened again. Dustin entered, carrying some blankets and a pillow. Gil felt the sudden urge to punch himself for agreeing to let the other man stay in his room. What the hell had he been thinking? It wouldn’t have killed Dustin to stay in his own room.
Dustin grinned, shaking his damp hair out of his face. “Man, feels good in here. I wish I could have sprung for a window unit like you did.”
Gil frowned, feeling guilty for being so mean. Even though he and the other man were nothing alike, he knew Dustin wasn’t just trying to mooch off him. His housemate could only afford to be here because he had a baseball scholarship. He worked full-time during the off-season, and Gil knew any extra money Dustin got went back home for his mom and five younger siblings. He never failed to come through on his portion of the bills, either, which was something Gil couldn’t say for the other two guys sharing the house.
Still, every time he talked to Dustin he became tense and rude. He could explain part of his rudeness away with the other man’s annoying tendency to tease Gil and come into his room without knocking. He had to admit the rest of his behavior was due to how he felt every time Dustin came near him. Gorgeous, athletic, funny Dustin was everything he’d always wanted but never been brave enough to get, which made him feel like the skinny, awkward geek he was. He hated the feeling. He covered up his nervousness with a haughty coldness that didn’t seem to faze the other man. In fact, sometimes Dustin seemed to find Gil’s attitude amusing, which only made him angrier.
Irritated with himself for dwelling on the subject, Gil flopped down on his bed and turned to face the wall. “Can you get the light?”
“Sure.” Dustin dropped his stuff on the floor and turned the light off, bathing the room in soothing darkness.
They were both silent for a few minutes as Dustin arranged his blankets on the floor and got comfortable. Then Dustin spoke again. “I wonder why they call them the ‘dog days’ of summer.”
“The Ancient Greeks and Romans called the hottest days of summer the dog days because the sun rose and set with Sirius, the Dog Star. They thought we could feel Sirius’s heat on Earth, even though the star is actually too far away. The earth’s tilt is really what causes the heat, not the Dog Star.” He trailed off, feeling stupid for going into lecture-geek mode when Dustin had probably just been making small talk or asking a rhetorical question.
“Really? That’s cool.”
To Gil’s surprise, the other man sounded as if the mini-lecture had interested him. Then, after a pause so long Gil thought Dustin had gone to sleep, he continued, his voice uncharacteristically subdued. “You must think I’m really dumb. You know so much stuff, and all I know about is sports.”
Shocked, he turned over to face the other man. His eyes had adjusted to the dimness of the room enough for him to see Dustin biting his lip, eyes downcast. Even in the near-dark it was obvious Dustin really believed Gil thought he was dumb. Gil must have been even more of a jerk than he’d realized. Another twinge of guilt, this one stronger, ran through him.
He’d been silent so long that Dustin clearly took his lack of response for agreement.
“Is that why you don’t like me? ’Cause I’m dumb? I know I bug you a lot, but I was just joking around, trying to be friends. I’m sorry.”
Dustin sounded hurt. The idea of Dustin trying to be his friend, being hurt by what he thought, surprised the hell out of him. This whole time he’d figured a guy like Dustin could never want to be his friend, and Dustin had been thinking something similar about him. This would be the perfect opportunity for him to make Dustin go away for good, but he couldn’t let his housemate go on thinking he was too dumb for Gil. It wasn’t true, and it wouldn’t be right.
Finally, he managed to get his voice to work. “I don’t think you’re dumb, Dustin. And I don’t dislike you.”
The other man seemed to think his words over for a minute. “Yeah, right. If you don’t dislike me, why won’t you talk to me? You act like you can barely stand to be in the same room with me most of the time.”
Gil sighed. The only way to convince Dustin would be to tell the truth. Or at least part of the truth. “I don’t avoid you because I don’t like you. I avoid you because you make me nervous.”
The darkness made explaining easier, when Dustin couldn’t see his face very well. “All through high school, I was this scrawny little geek. Most people only talked to me to pick on me or ask if they could copy my homework, especially the popular kids. Here it’s different. I can be skinny, and get good grades, and study a lot, and people don’t tease me very much. Somehow, though, talking to you...Well…I feel like I did back then.”
Dustin’s frown was so fierce Gil could see the expression perfectly, even in the dark. “You’re not a scrawny geek. Those kids were assholes if they’d treat you like that. I wasn’t teasing you to be a jerk, Gil.”
Shifting to his back, Dustin stared at the ceiling. “I just didn’t know how else to talk to you, since you’re so smart and all. The truth is, you make me kind of nervous too. I mean, you always seem so self-assured, like you’ve got everything figured out. Makes me a little bit jealous sometimes.”
Once again Gil was astonished. Dustin was jealous of him? The shell of cold defensiveness he’d always maintained around Dustin cracked a bit more. Before he thought about it, he admitted, “I’ve been jealous of you too. You’re so good at sports, and everyone wants to hang around you.” And you’re the hottest guy I’ve ever met. He restrained himself from saying that part, at least.
A soft sigh greeted his admission. “Everyone wants to be with me except the person I want to be with.”
Gil swallowed hard against the sudden lump in his throat. Dustin wanted to be with someone? He prayed Dustin wouldn’t ask him for advice on his love life now that they were friends, sort of. What could he say? Forget about whoever you like and go for me instead? Yeah right. No way would Dustin be interested in him even if he liked guys. He cleared his throat. “Um, I wouldn’t be the person to talk to about that.”
Dustin sat up and turned toward him. “You’re the only person I can ask.”
Oh, God. This was torture. “Look, Dustin, I’m the last person you should ask for relationship advice. Whoever you want to be with would run the other way if you took advice from me.” Gil wasn’t lying. He could count his relationships on one hand and have fingers left to spare. He’d been too shy in high school to come out, and now he was out, but too busy and too shy to do much dating. Pretty much anyone could give better advice than he could.
In a voice almost too low to hear, Dustin said, “It’s you, Gil. It’s been you ever since I moved in.”