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Authors: Liz Crowe

Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Health; Fitness & Dieting, #Relationships, #Love & Romance, #Genre Fiction, #Lgbt, #Gay Fiction

Essence of Time (10 page)

BOOK: Essence of Time
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Brandis shifted from foot to foot. “Yeah, but first I need to tell you something.”

Jack tossed the keys to Rob, and kept drinking from the bourbon bottle as he shed his coat and tie. “Sure.”

Brandis stood, facing Jack. “Maureen and I…well, we’re getting married.” Jack’s face went slack for about a second and then broke out in a smile.  “Well, of course you are, god dammit! I wouldn’t approve of anyone else.”

Brandis kept talking. “But, we are moving to Germany after the wedding. I’ve been stationed there.” Rob tensed, knowing how close Jack was to his younger sister.

Jack didn’t miss a beat. “Perfect. I’ve always wanted to visit the Father Land. Get in the car, ya fuckers. We got some celebrating to do.”   He stayed silent a moment, staring into the dark night. “I’m gonna prove that asshole wrong about me, watch.”

Brandis put a hand on his shoulder from the back seat. “You have nothing to prove to him, Jack. Prove whatever it is to yourself.”

“Yeah, that too. Let’s get a move on. There is not enough alcohol in this town tonight….or pussy. At least for me, maybe for him," he nodded at Rob, "but not for you. You cheat on my sister and I’ll kill yer ass.” He clapped a hand on Rob’s shoulder.

Rob grinned, back on familiar ground. “Maybe not, my friend, but I’m game to find out.”

 

It would be a solid two years before he had anything resembling a real conversation with Jack again.

Chapter Eight

 

Two Years Later

When he opened his email early Sunday and saw the message, Rob immediately picked up the phone and speed dialed Jack. His friend sounded groggy, and pissed when he answered. “What?”

“You tell me what. Where is she? How is she?” He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat outside on the balcony so as not to wake the girl in his bed. He’d stayed so distant from the whole Ann Arbor scene, reaching out only once or twice to both Jack and Suzanne in the last couple of years. Guilt washed over him in a sick wave.

“Home now. She’s… oh hell, man she is a mess. I knew I should not have let that guy near her, not after…”

Rob interrupted him. “Hang on. Fill me in from the beginning.”

“You sure you want in on this? I mean you haven’t exactly been available to talk for the last twenty four months.”

“Fuck you, Gordon. I’ve been busy, working. Kind of like you. And I don’t see your sorry ass traipsing out to the Windy City much either.” Anger coursed through him, mainly because he knew his friend was right.  “Anyway, spill it.”

By the time he heard the whole horrific story, he’d gone through his second cup of coffee and was shaking with fury. “I’m gonna drive over.”

“No, no, not necessary.” Jack insisted. “Really. I know you’re at a crucial point with the restaurant.”

“Fuck the restaurant, man, this is our friend.” He ran a hand down his face, relief and simultaneous guilt coursing through his blood stream. 

“Listen, between me and Adams and her, ah, boyfriend, the brewer, we’ve got this. But I tell you it is one crazy fucked-up mess, no doubt. Not sure how she’ll resolve it but you know Suzanne. She always lands on her feet somehow. I gotta go. Houses to sell.”

“I know. Good to talk to you. Even though it’s about this.”

Jack laughed but it was an ugly sound, making Rob wince. “Yeah. You too. See you around.”

Rob sat for another hour, watching the city come to life below him, contemplating what a shitty friend he was. His self-preservation reflex had kicked in after Jack’s father’s funeral. He’d headed back to Chicago determined to make a go of the restaurant, to outlive the asshole chef’s abuse and prove to the owners he was better. He had done all of that and more. After a year they’d fired the jerk in a flurry of expletives and thinly veiled threats of lawsuits. Rob had been installed in his place as head chef.

He’d effectively cut himself off from everything, including Kyle, which hurt more than he would admit. He had taken the hostess girl up on her repeated offers; they'd settled into a decent rhythm of friendly sex. Nothing special, at least not for him. She claimed the same. Rob held his heart aloof as much as he could. He found a soccer team to play with on a regular basis, went on long runs along Lake Michigan and kept his mind free and clear of anything resembling an emotional connection. It was good—mostly.  Two years of clean bills of health, enough sex to keep his edge off, but he had not been with another man since Kyle.

He frowned, watching the young family that had moved in below him as they navigated the expensive-looking baby stroller across the street. The tall man put an arm around his wife’s shoulders as they waited for the light to change. She looked up, he kissed her, then they both looked down at the baby who’d started yelling when the sun hit his face. Something about the scene made his heart hurt. That pissed him off.
Why didn’t he want more? Or did he want it and couldn't admit it?
He was nearly thirty-four fucking years old and utterly alone with no one to blame for that but himself.

The sounds of stirring from the bedroom brought him to his feet. One thing was certain, he mused as he stripped off his jeans and dove back under the sheet to her waiting body, he’d met his life goal on one level, but on most others he was still marking time, waiting for the librarian to call his book due.

 

****

 

Three Weeks Later

Rob was scheduled to work the Midwest Beer Fest, doing pairings with some of the bigger breweries with a few dishes both at the restaurant after the festival hours and at the event itself in the giant “Savor” tent. He’d been aggravated all week, ever since his brief and unsatisfactory conversation with Jack about Suzanne.  He’d tried to call again, see how she was but kept getting voicemail. The one text he sent went unanswered. Just as well, he supposed. He’d cut them off for the last two years. Why would they think he wanted back in now? But the twitchy, quick-tempered feeling remained, and had resulted in a fairly epic argument with the hostess he'd been fucking, ending with her telling him he could take his emotionally constipated attitude and shove it up his ass.

He hadn’t really missed her, per se, which told him a lot about himself and his capacity for shallowness. He glared at himself in the rearview mirror before climbing out of his jeep and entering the crowd of beer drinkers. He did not like himself much lately. While he looked great on the outside, never healthier or more fit, he felt like shit on the inside, and didn’t know what he could do to fix it.

He did his midday gig in the food tent then wandered around, tasting and greeting some of his friends in the brewery business. It was always a fun group. He missed it. Letting a pleasant buzz settle in his head, and rebuffing a couple of admittedly hot but really drunk girls, he took a seat at one of the round tables to the side of the Michigan beer tent, not noticing at first that someone was slumped in a chair opposite him. When the guy sat up, Rob saw immediately that he was eye-rolling shit-faced drunk. And incredibly attractive. His body went on alert for the first time in ages as he observed the young man’s lean, fit torso, highlighted nicely by the soft looking black tee shirt.

The guy looked at him, made a vain attempt to focus. His eyes were the most amazing shade of emerald green Rob had ever seen. The sadness in them went straight to his gut. He moved to the chair one spot closer, putting a hand on the stranger’s strong looking arm. “Hey, you okay?” The guy flinched, glared at Rob who was startled to realize how young he must be.

“No. Thanks. I’m not.” He sat back and stared up at the darkening sky. “Go ‘way.” He tried to wave Rob off. Rob remained mesmerized by him somehow. The line of his jaw, covered with dark stubble begged for his touch. His shaggy dark blond hair fairly screamed for Rob’s fingers through it. He clenched his fists, cleared his throat and willed his body down from the lusty ledge. The kid was drunk and needed help and to sober up, not hit on by a horny older man.

“Listen,” Rob put a hand on his shoulder. The skin was hot under his tee shirt. He looked at Rob’s hand, then back into his eyes, making Rob’s breath catch in his throat. “I’m Rob. Why don’t you let me…”

The man leaned into him, giving Rob a whiff of beer, light cologne, and sunscreen. He put a hand on Rob’s thigh making him nearly jump out of his skin. Berating himself, he let the guy do it and moved closer. He’d never in his life picked up a man, drunk or otherwise, in a public place like this. He was both embarrassed and horny as hell, all at once. This young man, so near him right now, exuded a sort of needy vibe that struck him hard between the eyes. Rob was not a caretaker; never had been. He was too much of a loner to be that in tune to what others needed from him. But an odd, almost woozy sensation of pure desire to help this kid washed over Rob. He needed to get him somewhere safe to sleep off the drunk and get past the hurt; it almost suffocated Rob with its urgency.

The guy squinted up at him. “I’m Blake. And you…” he squeezed Rob’s leg, his face too close to Rob’s own for comfort. “You are…really tall.” He let go and lurched to his feet.  Rob followed him around the back of the tent, helped him up after he puked on the grass and guided him to a nearby waiting taxi.

“Okay Blake. I’m Rob,” he crouched down on the sidewalk to be eye-to-eye marveling again at the deep green that met his gaze. “Where should I send you?”

Blake gripped his arm, sending a shock wave of energy through Rob’s entire body. Blake felt it too, let him go fast, staring at his own hand then up at Rob. “Uh, dunno. Someone else did hotel stuff.  I’m…too…” Rob made a decision then; one he’d look back on and thank god for, but which made him doubt his sanity at the time.  He pushed Blake’s floppy form across the back seat and climbed in, giving the taxi driver his home address. Blake leaned into him, making Rob shiver.
What are you doing Frietag? Picking up boys at the beer fest now? Nice.

He shook his head, lifted his arm and put it around the young man’s shoulders, loving the perfect way he fit into his side. “Sorry.” Blake mumbled.

When they arrived at his building, he jostled Blake out and into the elevator, hating himself for how much he loved holding him up, loved the sensation of the man’s strong body in his arms.
God, you are just sick
. He stared at the two of them in the elevator door’s reflection.

“Thanks,” Blake mumbled, sounding more like “shlanks” before Rob lowered him to the large leather couch. Rob put a hand on Blake’s hair, touched his rough jaw, and acknowledged the loosening of the vise he’d had around his chest for the past year or two. Blake mumbled some more, rolled onto his side and started snoring. Rob pulled off his shoes and tried not to stare at the obvious physical perfection that hid under Blake’s faded jeans before covering him with a blanket.

Cut the shit, you dirty old man. Let the kid sleep it off then point him wherever he needs to go. The end.

But Rob sat longer than he realized, watching Blake sleep.

Part II:  Blake

Chapter One

 

Two Years Earlier

Blake bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, nervous energy coursing through him like a live wire. He tried hard to focus on the words coming from his new boss’ mouth, but all he heard was,
“I did it. I did it. I did it,”
like a mantra in his head. And he had.

Despite his father’s intense disapproval, he’d ditched his math/science track at the University of Michigan, packed up his truck and headed to Portland, Oregon. Enrolled in their brewing science program he'd graduated in a record three years. He'd come back to Ann Arbor to run his own brewery for the first time.
His.
He gripped his hands behind him, unable to keep the no-doubt shit-eating grin from his face. Evan Adams, owner of Big House Brewing Company looked up at him at one point as they talked about particulars of the staffing issues Blake needed to handle along with the general day-to-day operations for one of the fastest growing micros in the state and finally had grinned back.

Then he got serious again. “Listen, Blake, we are taking a bit of a risk with you. You’ve apprenticed for less than a year over at Jackson Brewing, you’re young…”

“But," Blake interrupted,  "you said yourself, I'm energetic and creative. You won’t regret this, Evan. I swear it.” He bounced again, feeling the taut muscles in his legs flex and relax.   The other man sighed and rolled his shoulders.

“Well, tell you what, if you can keep this thing going for me, for us, we are in for a wild ride; I am sure of it. Now, let’s focus on this paperwork a second, can we?”

Blake nodded, and tried to do just that. They both looked up when the metal brewery door slammed shut.

“Suzanne!” Evan stood, held out his arms, and a slight, red-headed vision of beauty went into them for a brief moment before breaking away and turning to him. Blake blinked. Felt his heart do a weird speed up then slow down thing at the sight of the petite, gorgeous woman who stuck her hand out for him to take. Evan had to clear his throat before Blake realized he was required to meet her halfway on the politeness thing. He gulped, enveloped her small hand in his and had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from yanking her into a hug.
Jesus but she was…perfect.

“Sorry, Blake, right? I’ve been out, um, sick, for the last week or so. Missed all the interview fun but it sounds like you are a done deal.” Evan slapped Blake on the back and laughed.

“This little firebrand, my friend, will become your worst nightmare very soon.” Blake stared at the man, then back into the dark greenish eyes of the woman dressed in a perfect cream-colored skirt, sleeveless shirt and high heels. He sensed his mouth opening and closing like a fish, or the village idiot, but no sounds would form.

“Oh, come on now Evan,” she batted her long lashes innocently and pouted her perfect cupid-bow lips. Blake’s knees nearly buckled.  He coughed to cover up his gasp.  “Poor guy. Let him get his sea legs before you sic me on him, okay?”  She sashayed away, into the Tap Room, calling out to various staff members and accepting warm hugs of welcome-back as she passed through. Blake stared at her, then back at Evan, and realized both of his hands were clenched into tight fists. He took a breath and released them. Evan also watched the small form walk away, something resembling anger in his eyes.

BOOK: Essence of Time
7.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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