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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 (9 page)

BOOK: Essence of Time
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“Then listen to your brain instead.” His voice had sounded rough in his own ears. His chest ached like a son of a bitch, but he went on. “I’m no good for you. Let it go.”

“The hell you say.” He’d heard anger creeping into the other man’s voice.

“Maybe. But it’s true. I don’t…I can’t love you.” He had gulped at the admission. Visions of Christine ghosted through his brain for some reason. He’d squeezed his eyes shut, gripped the phone so hard his palm hurt.
Why are you doing this?

He had no idea, other than self-preservation. If he didn’t get close to anyone, it wouldn’t hurt so badly when he… Kyle’s angry voice broke through his inner justification session.

“Why not? I don’t care about the cancer, Rob, Jesus. Why can’t you get that? The cancer isn’t you. It doesn’t define you. Stop pulling it on like a god-damned Halloween mask, hiding behind it because you can’t commit.”

“What are you, my therapist?” He had not wanted to do this. Yet so much of what the man said was true. “I am sick. Are you fucking deaf or just stubborn? I am ‘on loan,’ okay? Temporary. I won’t let anyone get hurt because I…”

“Why don’t you let me decide how and when I want to get hurt?”

“Because I am dying, god damn it.”

“So? We are all dying.”

“Don’t be obtuse. You know what I mean. I gotta move on, live more, and avoid….you, avoid love. Don’t you get it?”

“If that’s what you want,” Kyle’s voice had been so soft Rob could barely hear it.

He recalled gulping back the urge to beg for forgiveness, admit he was wrong. Ask to go home, to Detroit, to Kyle. He could brew beer, maybe work for Evan. He'd be with the man he wanted so badly his whole body shook as he stood.  “It isn’t what I want Kyle. It’s how it has to be.  Good bye.” He had touched the end button on the phone, and slumped into a chair, tears pressing the back of his eyes until he gave up and let them flow.

 

 

And, here he was, alone. Working for a hard-ass, prima donna bastard determined to force him out of his kitchen. Rob gutted it out and moved forward. Like always. He rolled over and realized the Midwest Beer Fest was on the horizon, just a few weeks away. He’d get to meet up with the guys from Detroit River. Evan was headed out too, with the new brewer he’d had on board for a year or so. Jack, as usual, was working and couldn’t make it.

He forced himself up out of the bed and into the shower, letting the anticipation of a beer fest clear his head of anger and frustration. He washed off, the hot water beating his aching muscles and reflected on the recent strange conversation he had with his friend back in Ann Arbor. Apparently, their old friend from college, Suzanne Baxter, had started working for Evan, doing marketing and sales for the rapidly growing business.

Jack was convinced that her husband, the doctor, had been beating her up with regularity for a few months. Between trying to break up with a man who refused to let him go, and adjusting to life with a new chef, Rob had a whole lot of nothing left for anyone and he hated himself for it. They’d talked a while and Rob tried to wrap his mind around the concept of the headstrong, beautiful young woman he’d known as a victim. It didn’t square and made his head ache with the effort.  Jack was just as puzzled, but the amount of vitriol he’d spewed with regard to Suzanne’s husband had alarmed Rob. “Rescue her, if you’re that convinced she needs it,” he’d said at one point.

Jack had scoffed, backed away a little, but Rob knew how much he cared about their friend and he made a mental note to call her, check in, make her talk like they used to.

By the time he limped out of the shower, he realized his phone had been buzzing for a while. He’d missed three calls in fifteen minutes, two from Evan. He hit redial as he scrubbed his hair dry.  “Hey,” his brain was already on the day ahead, and, of course, Kyle. He shut his eyes but the man’s deep mocha skin, firm lips and body invaded even more. He needed to get laid. Or something. There was a girl, a hostess at the restaurant whose body language screamed “fuck me Rob” but by the time he was done there each day the only thing he craved was rest. As soon as he heard Evan’s words all thoughts of anything resembling physical satisfaction burned off like sun-struck fog.

“Jack’s dad died last night. Massive heart attack; dropped him like a stone.”

Rob sat.  “Fuck.”

“Yeah. So, you need to come back if you can.”

“Sure. Okay, um,” Rob shook his head at himself already making mental excuses of why he couldn't go.
Cut that shit right now, Frietag.
“I’ll be there, but late tonight. I’ll call him. Need a place to stay anyway.”

“Sure. But if he doesn’t answer, text him. He may not answer but he'll see your message.”

“Got it. See you soon.”  He leaned back in the chair and stared up at the ceiling. John Gordon Senior was, had been, a real ball breaker of a man to everyone around him. He'd driven his wife to an early grave, her liver pickled from noon martinis. His own daughter, Maureen, moved out when she was sixteen claiming she couldn’t stand how much of an asshole he was, and he'd let her.  She'd spent the better part of her high school years living with a friend.

 And then, there was Jack. Rob ran a hand over his face. By the time he met his friend their freshmen year of college, Jack had been shaped into a guy eager to please on one hand, but hard as steel on the other. He'd been driven beyond logic to succeed at anything, just to please his bastard father, a seemingly impossible goal. Jack had partied harder than anyone Rob knew, but maintained a four point oh and worked like a slave every summer on job sites for his father's company, always striving for the elusive approval, which never came, as best Rob could tell.

Their graduation weekend was Rob’s first and only glimpse at how bad the guy was. A darker, slightly shorter version of Jack, John Gordon had glared at both men during the requisite dinner, downing glass after glass of expensive Scotch, nothing but criticism coming from his lips. He asked Rob about medical school, then turned that into a rant against “slimy lawyers, like my son,” clapping Jack on the back. Maureen had been there and stayed silent. Jack’s admittedly hot step-mother had spent her time running her hand up and down Rob’s leg under the table. It had hurt Rob to see his larger than life friend quelled by such a giant Jerk. There was no accounting for family; Rob knew that all too well.

Since returning to Ann Arbor after law school, Jack had transformed himself into a hot real estate agent on the rise, evoking yet more of his father’s disdain, until he realized the advantages of it for his own projects. Together, somehow, the two of them had built and sold nearly a dozen expensive mini mansions and were in the middle of negotiations on a development between Ann Arbor and Dexter somewhere. Jack hardly ever said anything about his father, other than to call him "Gordon Senior." But Rob knew his friend was still working for that compliment; one that would certainly never come now.

He sighed and dragged himself up, tugged on jeans and a t-shirt and grabbed a beer before calling his friend.

  

****

 

One Week Later

“Mother fucking son of a whore bastard!” Jack slammed the file down on his desk at the building company office.  Rob and Evan glanced at each other.  Evan pulled a couple of cold beer bottles from the cooler at his feet and handed them over. Jack stood, ignoring the offer. “I gotta get out of here.”

Rob jumped up, grabbed his suit coat. “I’ll come with you,” he shot a glance back at Evan who nodded. Their friend was nothing if not volatile as shit. He had been known to go off the deep end at times, losing the tightly clenched control he maintained on himself and his environment in massive displays of drunkenness, almost as if he had a death wish. They jumped into his new Mustang convertible and roared out into the night. It had been four days since the high mass funeral at St. Thomas.

 

 

That afternoon Jack had thrown his father an expensive wake at Barton Hills Country Club, attended by pretty much everyone in Ann Arbor. From city council members and the mayor to all the major business owners, all the way down to the many workers Gordon Senior had employed through the years. Almost every man and woman came up to Jack and expressed condolences, telling him amazing stories of how his father had helped them out in times of duress or financial need by giving mini loans or offering medical assistance, all sorts of shit that had flabbergasted him. At one point, he'd turned to Rob and stated what had been on Rob’s mind since the first "Gordon Senior as a Saint" story: “What a fucker. Liked everyone but his own family.”

Maureen had joined them, and Rob had been surprised to see a strikingly handsome black man at her side in a sober Air Force uniform.

Jack had tugged his sister in for a hug, and spoken to the man. “Brandis! Holy shit, when did you get here?” Jack gave the guy a hug, then stepped back. “Fucking-A. Sucks that funerals are the one way to have a class reunion. Rob,” he pulled Brandis over. “Brandis. My two compatriots in crime, finally you meet each other.”  The other man smiled, shook Rob’s hand, and Rob was instantly struck by the aura of authority that surrounded him. Jack stuck his hands in his pockets. “Thanks for being here. Seriously.”

“Oh you lame fucker, I knew you couldn’t handle this alone.” Brandis grinned and sipped his beer. “Nice party for such an asshole. And you, my friend, are way too sober.”

“Yeah,” Jack shot him a weak smile. “I’ll celebrate later.” Rob jumped when a small, red-haired form shot past him and into Jack’s arms.  The sight of the Suzanne hanging off Jack was at once familiar and completely at odds with what they’d discussed only a week ago.  She held on to his friend’s tall form, and Rob was pleased to see Jack relax if for only a second.  She let him go, stepped back and held one of his hands while reaching back to pull Rob into the embrace. He smiled at her lovely pixie-like face. 

“How goes it, beautiful?” Rob kissed her forehead. When she jumped back, her eyes darting around with something that Rob would swear was fear, a surge of anger possessed him. He caught Jack’s gaze over her head then pulled her close. “Really,” he whispered in her ear, eyeballing the tall angry-looking man striding toward the three of them. She yanked herself out his embrace, clenched her hands together tight. That was the moment when Rob realized Jack was right.

Her voice shook as she let the guy pull her close. “Uh, honey? This is Rob. And you remember Jack?” She shut her eyes a second and Rob noted the man’s jaw flex and his grip tighten around her waist. He stepped back, stood shoulder to shoulder with Jack, hoping they presented something like a “don’t fuck with our friend’ united front.

But Suzanne looked up at her husband with a sappy grin. Rob’s breath caught in his throat when the admittedly handsome, if a little brittle-looking, guy kissed her gently on the cheek before turning with a hand out. “Rob, nice to meet you. Jack. Sorry for your loss. Family is important, right hon?” He pulled Suzanne even closer against his side if it were possible. Jack tensed. Rob put a hand on his friend’s arm.

Suzanne swallowed hard and smiled at the two of them.  The look in her eyes broadcast her message clear as day,
“Don’t interfere.”
Rob took a breath and shoved down the nearly overwhelming impulse to punch the guy right in the face, and stepped casually right into the jerk’s personal space. As he expected, the man stumbled back, pulling Suzanne with him. Rob leaned in and kissed Suzanne’s cheek. “Call me,” he insisted, but not loud enough for her husband to hear him. “I mean it.”

She looked away, blinking rapidly.  “Let’s go honey,” her husband’s voice tightened “I have the late shift tonight.” She shot him a weak smile before letting him tug her out of the room. 

Jack put a hand on his shoulder.  “I am gonna kill that son of a bitch,” he muttered before drifting away with his sister to greet more folks much sadder about the Senior Gordon's death than they were.

 

 

Now, stone-cold sober in a way much more alarming than the shit-faced drunk Rob had expected him to be, Jack sped through the dark Ann Arbor streets. He’d gotten the shocking news that his father had died intestate with no will in place, but rather, a written statement that his long-time friend and attorney, Will Richardson, should be executor of the company in his place. Not his own son who had worked with him for years. One final “up yours, kid” it seemed. They screeched into the large cemetery, pulled in alongside the mound of fresh dirt that had yet to be graced with the elegant granite monument Jack and his sister had chosen for their father and mother. He reached over into the glove box and pulled out an expensive bottle of rare bourbon, yanked the cap off and knocked back a healthy slug.

Rob took it when it was offered, letting the smooth warmth coat his tongue and glide down his throat. The whiskey lit a fire in his gut but the second drink went down better. He handed it back to Brandis. Jack had both hands on the wheel in a death grip. Rob ignored the brightness of his friend’s eyes, grabbed the bourbon when Brandis passed it back up, and hopped out of the car. Taking the few steps over to the fresh grave he looked back once, then poured the entire contents of the bottle over the dirt, slowly, saying his own personal curse for the man underneath. Jack walked over to him, palming another bottle, and did the same.

Jack glanced up at the sky and lifted the nearly empty container. “Hope you are enjoying hell, ya fucking bastard. Love you, Ma.” He gulped down the remaining brown liquor. When he turned to Rob, there was no denying the tears standing in his bright blue eyes. Rob swallowed hard, old emotions about his friend rushing to the surface. He held him close, then stepped away. “Now,” Jack stated, his eyes taking on a different hue. “Let’s get drunk right and proper.”

 Rob tossed his empty bottle on Senior’s dirt and held out his hand. “Fine, but I’m driving, at least until we get where we’re going. Then, taxis.”

“Um, Jack.” Brandis still stood leaning on the car, looking stiff and uncomfortable.

“Yeah. What’s up? Surely you will join us in the debauchery I have planned for tonight. This guy,” he looked at Rob, “was like the ‘Rob’ of high school with me I tell ya. Nothing with a pussy was safe from our charms.”

BOOK: Essence of Time
2.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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