“You’re wearing that?” Angel asked from her perch on one of the two bar stools in Dmitri Greenman’s kitchen.

“What’s wrong with it?” Pulling down a chipped Colorado State coffee mug, he filled it and handed it to Angel.

“Nothing. If you want to look like a twenty year old dude-bro.”

Dmitri looked down at his knee-length cargo shorts and tank top. Okay, maybe the flip flops were a little ratty. “What should I wear?”

“Jeans. And that teal shirt I bought you last year that you never wear. It makes your eyes look extra blue.”

Dmitri wrinkled up his nose as he sat on the other stool. “Jeans?” he whined. “It supposed to be ninety degrees today.”

“Do you want to be getting some hot man-love again before you die?”

He sighed, slumping. “Yes.”

“Then change.”

“Fine I will.” He ducked as the cabinet door swung over his head in a lazy arc, brushing through his blond curls.

“I hear some people have doors that actually stay shut,” Angel said, brushing the red-dyed side of her hair out of her eyes.

“This stays shut.” Dmitri pressed the piece of tape hanging from the edge of the door against the neighboring cabinet. “See?”

Angel raised one pierced eyebrow. “How old is that piece of tape?”

“I’ve replaced it at least once since Granddad died, so two years? Ish.”

“Hmm.” Angel frowned and sipped her coffee.

The door wasn’t the only unfinished project in the house. The kitchen alone was a disaster of half-installed vinyl tile, doorless cabinets, and unpainted molding. A washing machine hugged the wall, rubber hosing trailing across the ground, and disappearing into an alcove. He’d had high hopes of fixing it all up after buying the house from his parents, but each weekend those hopes slipped further and further away. He was starting to understand why his parents had had no problem leaving the house behind when they’d moved up the mountain.

“I know the house needs work. But that might be somebody else’s problem soon.”

Angel set the coffee cup on the counter in front of her. “Explain.”

Dmitri slid his hands into the pockets of his shorts and looked at the floor. “I might be moving.”

Angel slid off the stool to stand in front of Dmitri, wiry arms crossed across her chest. “Explain.”

Though she barely reached Dmitri’s chin, he took a step back, putting his hands up to fend her off. “It’s just a maybe. I applied for this job. In California.”

“California? Dima, that’s awesome! We always wanted to go there.”

“We got close that one time. Before the car broke down.”

“Yeah. Golconda, Nevada is just so similar to San Francisco. Hard to tell them apart.”

Dmitri laughed. “Did it even have a repair shop?”

“Nope,” Angel answered with a hard pop on the P. “We had it towed to Winnemucca, remember.”

“Oh yeah. Good times. Well, this time, we’ll take my car. It has a transmission that might actually stay in one piece.”

“We?”

Dmitri smiled at the look in Angel’s eyes. “If you want to come with me. I’m sure I could use a roomie.”

She hugged him hard. As always, Dmitri was surprised by how tiny his best friend was in comparison to her enormous personality. He could feel her shoulder blades pushing through the thin t-shirt she wore. She’d saved his life more than once over the years. Maybe he’d be able to repay her now, get them both out of town.

Not that there was anything particularly terrible with Red Deer. But there had to be more to life than being born, living, and dying in the same town. They’d tried to get out several times before, but stuff kept happening, life intruded, inertia took over, and here they were. Ten years after high school and still in the same town. Same house for god’s sake. Even his parents had moved.

“So tell me about this job.” Angel tucking a leg up under her, balancing on the stool.

Moby, his half-lab, half-border collie, all-crazy mutt lay on the floor between them. Sparkling, light blue eyes were trained on his dirty tennis ball.

“I don’t even really remember. Something with the USDA and cows. In various rural areas. Not San Francisco, sadly. Truthfully, I barely looked at the job description, just made sure I was qualified for it.”

“Cows? That doesn’t sound like your kind of thing. I thought you loved your job?”

“I do. What I don’t love is the mountain of debt I’m buried under. At this rate, I’m going to die owing more to student loans than I do today.”

“So this pays more?”

Dmitri shrugged noncommittally. “They have a program where if I take a job in a critical-need area, they’ll pay $25,000 a year towards my student loans. Tax-free. That’s a lot of bucks.”

“Couldn’t you make that much more by opening a private practice?”

“I’m not that kind of a vet. I’m a research vet; you know that. I see more of animal cells than actual animals.”

Angel kicked the tennis ball, rolling it across the floor. Moby sprang into action, claws skidding across the linoleum floor. “Yeah. I never got that.”

Dmitri frowned. “We’ve been over this.” He loved the idea of helping sick animals, but when he thought about having to tell some little kid that her beloved cat had to be put to sleep, he died a little on the inside. No. He couldn’t handle that. “Besides, I don’t know if it would make that much more money. Nothing is guaranteed. There’s a lot of competition in this town, what if I didn’t get any clients?”

Angel poked Dmitri in the shoulder with a hard finger. “You always think so little of yourself. Why are we friends again?”

“Because you would have failed high school without me.”

Moby trotted over to Angel, dropped the ball at her feet, and then laid down again, eyes flitting up to Angel, then down to the ball over and over again.

Dmitri kicked the tennis ball out through the open back door. Moby charged through it.

Angel swung the door shut. “And you would have been shoved into lockers without me.”

“Probably. Almost was anyway.”

“What about your family? Friends? Won’t you miss them?”

“My family will be fine without me. Pippi can move into the house. She’ll love that.”

“Friends?”

“Do I have any besides you? Seems like all I have is sorta-exes and people I haven’t seen since the last day of school.”

Angel finished the coffee and put the cup in the sink. “You would have friends if you’d let yourself.”

“Why are you fighting me on this?”

She stared into the sink. Dmitri watched her fingers tap nervously against the scratched porcelain. “Just don’t want to get my hopes up,” she said finally.

Living in this town had been harder on her than on him, Dmitri knew. She and her brother Diego had grown up running wild. Her mom was a housekeeper at one of the sketchier places on the North end of town, her dad a long haul trucker who had never officially married her mom. Not that it mattered; he was never around anyway. When Diego died of an overdose six years ago, Angel had dropped out of college a year into her nursing degree. Dmitri had been trying to get her to go back ever since.

Dmitri wrapped his arms around her from behind, hugging her hard. He dropped a kiss on her hair. “I know. But we’ll get out of here. I’ll take you with me.”

She reached back, patting his head. He felt her stiffen under his embrace, and he stepped back and gave her some space. Dmitri poured the last bit of coffee into a travel mug and changed the subject.

“What are you going to do today?”

She turned around with a smile. “I’m going hiking with Jay. Not a long one. It’s gonna be another hot one, and I have to work tonight.”

“Jay?”

Angel bit her bottom lip. “New girl. Starting grad school here in the fall. You don’t know her.”

“Well, try not to break her heart before school starts.”

Angel placed her fingers against her chest, eyes open wide. “Me? I’m always the one left alone. Sad. Dumped. And this is how you, my best friend, treat me? I’m devastated.”

Dmitri laid a heavy hand on her shoulder. “I am truly, truly sorry for…” He paused, looking up at the ceiling. “For your dates.”

Angel smacked his hand away. “Screw you.” Angel filled up her water bottle and went to the fridge.

Dmitri stared deep into his coffee cup. “Oh? You were going to? And what new guy?”

“Smooth.” Angel held up two apples and raised an eyebrow. Dmitri nodded and waved his hand. Tucking the apples into her backpack before shrugging it on with a flip of her hair, she smiled.

“Whatever. See you tonight for the post-date recap?” She opened the back door, waiting for his answer. Moby pushed past her, almost knocking her over.

“Moby!” Dmitri scolded. “Yeah, I’ll be there. But you let the lunatic back in, or no tip for you.”

Angel smiled broadly and left.

Dmitri sighed. “Moby.” The dog was nowhere to be seen. Great.

It took him fifteen minutes to find the dog and get her outside again before he could leave. He hated leaving Moby alone all day. Maybe he needed another dog so she’d have company. As he dug through his dresser for the teal shirt, he wondered if the new guy liked dogs.

Troy gets ready

T-minus thirty minutes until date time and Troy was staring into his closet, naked, trying to figure out what to wear. Angel had suggested he wear his burgundy v-neck T-shirt and tight dark blue 501 jeans she had said ‘showed off his assets.’ Then she’d smacked him on the butt.

“First of all, I can’t believe you’ve memorized my wardrobe.”

“Not that much to remember, Tex.”

“Secondly, smacking my butt is sexual harassment. I could report you.”

“Come into the back room, baby. I’ll show you what real sexual harassment looks like.” She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.

He hadn’t taken her up on the offer, but he did try on the outfit. He had to admit; it did look good even if he had lost some of the bulk he’d had in the Army. He just couldn’t seem to get into the rhythm of working out anymore. It would be better if he had a group to exercise with. He’d watched the crazy bikers in neon lycra puffing and struggling up the steep hills around the reservoirs on lightweight aluminum bicycles and decided they didn’t look like they were having fun at all.

The kids plunging down dusty tracks on their thick-wheeled mountain bikes were definitely having fun, but he hadn’t survived war just to kill himself falling off a mountain. He needed to join a gym. Working out had been almost a competitive sport in his squad. They showed off to each other, challenging each other to lift more, get bigger. If he was honest about it to himself, working out had been as much about the aesthetics results as it was about strength and health, though you did have to be in shape to lug all that gear in 120-degree heat.

But even though he was smaller than had been at his peak a year ago, he was still buff, if he didn’t say so himself. The t-shirt showed most of the tattoos on his arms that twined down from his shoulder to wrist. His right arm was covered as much as regulations would allow, a souvenir from MSG duty at the Embassy in Bangkok.

The swallows on his collarbones peeking through the edge of the v-neck were brand spanking new. They symbolized the hope he had that he would find a home to return to over and over. Maybe this town could be that home. Maybe this date was just the first brick he could use to build his new life.

He slid the brown leather belt through the belt loops of his jeans, and pulled on his heavy boots that he couldn’t get out of the habit of wearing. The nylon hiking sandals people in Colorado liked to wear felt weird and light on his feet. He supposed eventually would give the boots up, they did get awfully hot in the summer. But sandals? Maybe not.

He looked at the clock and sighed. T-minus five now. Time to stop dawdling and engage.

DATE

The Starry Night coffee shop beckoned like an oasis of caffeinated-coolness in the hot mid-afternoon sun. He’d thought Colorado was supposed to be cool, but it had been hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk these last few days.

Troy snagged a spot on the street within view of the storefront. He checked his watch. 14:58. Right on time. He drummed his fingers against the steering wheel in time to the twangy-voiced man singing about traveling the backroads in his truck. Glancing in the side view mirror, he scanned the sidewalk for Troy. Nothing. No handsome blond man coming from the other direction either. The song ended, and a commercial for fireworks just over the state line came on, reminding Troy that the Fourth of July was two days away. Happy Birthday, America. It would be nice to celebrate on home soil again. Maybe Dmitri would want to go on see some fireworks. Troy rolled his eyes at himself and checked the watch again. 15:01 and no Dmitri. Maybe he’d changed his mind, come to his senses, and realized that he didn’t have anything in common with a guy like Troy.

Or maybe he was already inside. Then Troy was the one who was late, damn it. He jumped out of the truck.

The inside of Starry Night lived up to its name. Van Gogh-inspired stars and moonlit clouds lined the walls and ceilings. Locally produced art hung from every surface, every other piece incorporating the Colorado flag in some way or another. Coloradoan’s sure loved their State.

The one thing the coffee shop didn’t contain was Dmitri. Oh, well. He could use a cup of coffee anyway, and he might as well check on the class schedule for next semester.

A couple of minutes later he was sucking down a fair-trade iced caramel latte and wondering if he should have started with the two-year Community College instead of enrolling directly into the University when the bell over the door chimed, and Dmitri entered. A quick check of his watch told Troy it was three-ten.

Dmitri looked around nervously, visibly relaxing when he saw Troy in the corner and walked over to the table.

“I’m so sorry I’m late. I tried to call you and then realized I didn’t have your phone number.”

Troy waved his concern away. “It’s okay. Not a problem. I’m very good at keeping myself entertained.”

Dmitri smiled. “That’s good.” He dropped his bag on the side of the chair. “I’m going to get a drink. Are you okay?”

Troy gestured at his drink and pastry. “All set.”

“Great.”

He’d finagled a couple of classes, tweaking his schedule so he could get the most hours in at work and at school, by the time Dmitri came back bearing an oversized cup of coffee and a flourless chocolate brownie.

He settled in, took a bite of the brownie, and groaned happily.

“Good?”

“So good.” Dmitri forked off a piece and offered it to Troy. “Want to try a bite?”

Troy shook his head reluctantly. “I hate to come between a man and his brownie.”

Dmitri shoved the brownie into his face, nodding to himself. “I am kind of in an exclusive relationship with this brownie. I don’t think it would be fair to share.”

They made eye contact and laughed. Dmitri’s smile made those butterflies in Troy’s stomach return full-bore. He couldn’t ever remember anyone having this much of an effect on him so quickly. Was it him or was it just some kind of male biological clock urging him to find someone to settle down with? Was that even a thing?

The eye contact lingered a bit too long. Dmitri’s eyes flicked down to Troy’s mouth again, and Troy took a quick sip of his coffee to cover his awkwardness.

Too quick, he realized, as pain stabbed him behind his eye. “Ah,” he moaned, pressing the heel of his hand against his eye. “Dang that hurts.”

“Ice cream headache?” Dmitri asked.

Troy nodded, eyes watering and waving his hand in front of his mouth in a move he was sure was totally sexy. Great first date.

“Those suck.”

Troy nodded.

Dmitri looked around the coffee shop, checking out the art or the people maybe. Troy didn’t know. He just knew Dmitri had stopped checking him out. He cleared his throat. “So,” he said, trying to find something to talk about. “Dmitri is an unusual name. Are your parents Russian?”

“No, Russian Literature fans. They met in class at CU in Boulder, and, if I recall the story correctly, picked out names for all their future kids that first day.”

“Oh wow. Love at first sight.”

“I know, right? It could be worse; my brother’s name is Vladimir.”

“No way.”

“Yes, way. Do you want to know what my sister’s name is?”

Troy spread his hands incredulously. “Of course, I do, how could I not want to know?”

“Pippi.”

“Pippi? That doesn’t sound Russian.”

“It isn’t. It’s from the book Pippi Longstockings. Pippi. Rhymes with hippie, which my parents desperately wish they had been.” Dmitri shoved the rest of the brownie into his face, moaning happily the whole time.

Troy’s pants got a little tighter at the thought of Dmitri making those noises in his bed. He mentally smacked himself. It wasn’t like him to be mentally undressing a man he barely knew. But if he was honest, he’d been having dirty thoughts about Dmitri since the first time he’d seen him at the bar, before he’d even known his name.

“So your parents were born too late to be hippies. Tough luck.”

“Yeah. My dad will be forever sad that he didn’t have a draft card to burn. He’s made up for it by protesting the whole War on Terror. They’ve Marched on Washington so many times; I think they have their own sidewalk square.”

“Wow, it must have been quite a shock to them when you enlisted. What branch were you in? Angel didn’t say.”

Dmitri put his cup down, looking completely confused. “What? I never…I wasn’t in the military.”

“You said you were a vet.” Realization is beginning to dawn in Troy’s mind.

“I’m not that kind of vet. I’m a veterinarian. A doctor.” Dmitri bit his lip, eyes widening.

“Oh my God. When Angel said you were a vet, I just thought…”

“No, it’s okay. I just thought too.” Dmitri’s eyes shone as he fought back laughter.

Troy smiled back a small, closed-mouth smile. “You’re not mad?”

“Why would I be mad?”

Troy shrugged. “About me being a soldier. It sounds like your family is pretty anti-military.” Troy leaned back against the chair. He started to cross his arms but stopped himself.

Dmitri reached across the table, palm up. “Hey, no. You can be against a war and not against the soldiers.” He wiggled his fingers and his eyebrows, trying to get Troy to laugh or take his hand.

Troy laughed and looked away, then reached for Dmitri’s hand. “Okay.”

“So what brings you to Colorado?”

Troy shrugged. “Not much to tell. Got out of the Army. Didn’t want to live in West Virginia anymore. Took my GI Bill money and came here to go to school. Always thought Colorado sounded nice.”

“Do you have family in West Virginia?”

“Yeah. A bunch. Mom, Dad, two brothers, and a sister. Sister’s way older than me. ‘Bout ten years. Bunch’a cousins, aunts, and uncles of varying relation. You? Your people from around here?” Damn it. He could hear his accent. It always got stronger when he talked about home.

Dmitri laughed. “Very around here. I live in the house my grandparent’s built. When my grandfather died, my grandmother moved to Arizona to live with her sister. My parents moved up into the mountains to get back to the land. You’d like them, I think.”

“I like their son.”

Dmitri blushed the way only a true blond could. Troy wanted to touch his cheeks and see if they felt hot.

“Tell me about West Virginia,” Dmitri asked. “I don’t know anything about it.

Troy leaned back in his seat. “Grab me one of those brownies and I’ll tell you anything you want.”

“It’s a deal.”

FIRST FIREWORKS PTSD

An hour of non-stop conversation later they’d covered everything from coal mining to pepperoni rolls to the Hatfields and McCoys.

“I didn’t know the Hatfields and McCoys were real. I thought it was a Bugs Bunny thing.”

“Nope. Really real. If I tell you something, you have to swear not to tell anyone at Vincent’s.”

Dmitri leaned forward, eyes wide. “Cross my heart,” he said, putting action to words.

“My real name is Detroit.” He pronounced it Dee-troit, accent on the Dee. “I’m named after Detroit Hatfield. Now officially he died childless, but my momma said that her momma said he was her great grandpa.”

“I’ll take the secret of your scandalous background to my grave, Detroit.” He dodged the wadded up napkin Troy threw at him.

“Not to cut this short, but I have to get to work,” Troy said with an apologetic frown. “This was nice.”

“Yeah, it was.”

They bused their table and went back out into the world.

The heat slapped them in the face as they left the coffee shop. “Ugh, I swear summers have gotten hotter and muggier since I was a kid,” Dmitri said, putting on a pair of sunglasses. “Climate change can kiss my butt.”

Troy pulled his own glasses on. “This area of Colorado reminds me of parts of Afghanistan. Same climate and mountains.”

“There are mountains in Afghanistan?”

“Yeah. Tons of them. The Hindu Kush is part of the Himalayas. The highest peak is over 24,000 feet.”

Dmitri whistled. “Why do I always forget that? I just have some kind of vague picture of the desert when someone says Afghanistan.”

“Most people think that.”

Dmitri wasn’t in a rush to end the date. They hadn’t even touched on Troy’s military service or the war, both instinctively avoiding the topic for now. They’d stuck to comparing families. Troy’s West Virginia accent had gotten stronger the longer he talked about his home and his family. Dmitri was enchanted. He’d kept Troy doing most of the talking just to keep the slight drawl going.

“Let’s go back inside,” Dmitri suggested. “Tell Vincent you can’t make it to work today.”

Troy took a step closer to Dmitri. He was a few inches shorter than Dmitri and he had to look up to meet Dmitri’s eyes, something Dmitri didn’t mind that at all. His palms itched with the urge to grab Troy’s belt and pull him closer.

He vaguely registered the high-pitched whistle of cheap fireworks before his back slammed against the brick wall of the coffee shop and Troy’s body blanketed his, arms wrapped protectively over Dmitri’s head.

Well, this was moving a lot faster than Dmitri expected, but he had no complaints beyond the scrapes on his lower back. He opened his mouth to say something snarky when he registered Dmitri’s body trembling against his and not in a good way.

The crackle and repetitive popping of small fireworks continued. Troy pressed so tightly against Dmitri that he could feel Troy’s heart pounding, feel the deep inhalations and ragged exhalations of his breath.

There was another whistle and another short pop followed by the laughter of children.

Slowly, Dmitri lifted his hands to Troy’s arms. “Troy.”

Troy flinched.

“Troy. It’s okay. Troy.”

Troy pulled away slowly, one hand on Dmitri’s chest to hold him in place, face deathly pale. “You okay?” He scanned the streets, looking intently at the crowd.

Dmitri looked, too. Just your normal Saturday afternoon crowd of shoppers. Some kids ran past them and then turned down an alley. There was another volley of small explosions.

Troy’s face set in a frankly terrifying expression and he took a step towards the alley, yelling at the kids. “What the hell are you doing?”

Dmitri grabbed his arm. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s just some kids.”

Troy turned the look on Dmitri, and if he could have taken a step back, he would have. “No, it’s not okay,” Troy said. “What are people thinking? What are those kids playing at? People could have gotten hurt. This isn’t a game. Jesus Christ.”

He pulled away, ran a shaking hand through his head.

Dmitri felt pinned to the wall as he watched Troy pace and try to get himself under control. At one point, he bent over, hand on his knees just breathing heavy. His sunglasses clattered to the ground. Dmitri took a tentative step away from the wall and towards Troy.

“Sorry,” Troy said without straightening up. “You can go. I’ll be okay. I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”

Dmitri laid a gentle hand on Troy’s back. Troy’s muscles were hard as a rock with tension and sweat soaked through his shirt. He flinched, then relaxed under Dmitri’s touch. With one last deep inhale, he stood up. He face was still pale, but the expression that had promised death was gone much to Dmitri’s relief. “I forgot it was the Fourth of July tomorrow.”

“So,” Dmitri said, aiming for a light tone. “I’m guessing asking you to go see the fireworks is not a good idea?”

To his surprise, Troy gives a shaky laugh. “Yeah? You were going to ask me?”

Dmitri nods.

“I was thinking of asking you.”

“Great minds.” He picked the sunglasses off of the ground and handed them back to Troy. “Maybe we should just go see a movie instead.”

Troy took the glasses and slid them back on. “You still want to get together again? Even after…this?” He waved a hand indicated the street, the kids, his reaction.

“Yes? Shouldn’t I?”

Troy shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Let me walk you to work. You can tell me a little about it.”

“Work. Right.” Troy pulled the sweat-covered shirt away from his chest. “I know it’s just up the block, but let’s take my truck. I have a change of clothes in the back with my camping stuff. There should be a shirt I can change into.”

“Okay.”

They climbed into Troy’s old red pickup and cruised the two blocks to Vincent’s in silence. Troy seemed a million miles away, eyes jumping back and forth between either side of the street and at the cars that drove up next to them. An old Toyota Corolla pulled up next to them, and Troy slowed way down, letting a couple of cars get between them. “Lots of Corollas in Afghanistan,” he said.

“Yeah? That’s funny.”

“Yeah. Lots of ‘em.” He turned into the parking lot and stopped. He stared out the window long enough that Dmitri peered down the road, trying to see what held his attention. It was just a normal alley between two sets of buildings. The creak of the parking brake startled him, and he jumped.

“Sorry,” Troy said. “It rolls easy if I don’t set the brake.” He jumped out of the truck and walked to the back without waiting for an answer.

Dmitri followed. Stickers from different states and National Parks covered the tailgate. “Have you been to all those places?”

“Yep.”

“Wow. I’m impressed.”

Troy dropped the tailgate and crawled in to grab a small duffel bag. Plastic tubs lined the far end of the truck bed, a sleeping pad and bag lay unrolled, waiting for someone to crawl in.

Dmitri was seized with the unfamiliar urge to get in the truck and drive into the middle of nowhere with Troy. He never did that. It was a running joke in his family how much he hated camping and how he was never more than ten feet from electricity and indoor plumbing.

Troy dug through the bag. “Can’t wait to add some more stickers to my truck. Maybe you can show me around, take me to the National Forest.”

“We have National Forests?” Were they anything like National Parks? He felt ignorant, and his cheeks blazed with embarrassment.

“Yeah.” Troy turned around, a black t-shirt in his hand. “Like, five minutes from here. Have you never gone?” He sat on the dropped tailgate and pulled his sweaty shirt over his head.

Dmitri completely lost whatever answer he had been trying to formulate.

Troy’s tattoos continued over his shoulders, and there were a few more on his ribs. The dark edges of a pattern peeked out from the waistband of his hips. Dmitri tried not to whimper.

When Troy’s grinning face popped up through the neck hole in the t-shirt, Dmitri figured he hadn’t been very successful in keeping in the whimper. “Well,” Troy said. “How ’bout one day I take you up for a drive, and if you like it, we can stay a spell?”

“That sounds great.”

Troy surreptitiously checked his watch and Dmitri realized he had to let the man get to work. What type of goodbye should they have for a first date? Hug? Kiss? Handshake? Manly back pat? “I guess you have to go.”

“It is that time.” Troy stood up, shoved his hands in his back pockets, and studied the ground, and then he looked up at Dmitri. “I had fun. Thanks.”

“Thanks,” Dmitri repeated. “I mean. Me, too. I had fun.”

“So, uh, I told you I haven’t dated in a long time.”

“Never with a guy, if I recall correctly.”

Troy rolled his eyes, a blush staining his cheeks. “You remember correctly. So I’m not really sure what, uh, proper protocol is for ending the date.”

Dmitri stepped closer, hand reaching for Troy’s hip. “So I’m your first,” he said, voice low.

Troy trapped Dmitri’s hand with his. “First date. Not first anything else. Let’s be clear.”

“Mmm hmm. Well, soldier. I can show you the protocol for this occasion.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He leaned in.

Troy tilted his head up, smiling.

Dmitri kissed him, his fingers curling over Troy’s hip.

As far as first kisses went, it was short, sweet, and the best thing Dmitri had felt in a long time. He pulled away, licking his lips, fingers hooked in Troy’s front pocket.

They stood there, smiling at each other like total fools.

“Well?” Dmitri asked.

Troy nodded, wiped his mouth with his hand. “I think I can get behind that.”

A big Cadillac that had to be forty years old if it was a day crunch over the gravel in the parking lot and both men backed up to avoid getting run over by the eponymous Vincent D’Amico.

Vincent rolled to a stop near them, and the power window slid down with a purr. Cold air flowed from the purple crushed velvet interior. “Hello, boys.”

“Hey, Vinny,” Dmitri greeted him.

Troy pulled away from Dmitri. “I’ll be in, in a minute, Mr. D.”

Vincent waved a hand at Troy. “Take your time. I think I can hold down the fort for a few minutes. As you were.” His smile took ten years off his face, despite the gray beard and fringe of white hair. He pulled the Caddy into his spot under the cottonwood tree.

Dmitri and Troy waited until he’d gone into the bar.

“I really have to go.”

“Yeah. So. We should do this again, right?”

Troy ran his hand through his hair and sighed. Dmitri wished he could run his hands through Troy’s hair. Soon, if today was any indication.

“I’ll call you,” Troy was saying when Dmitri brought his attention back to the present.

Well, that sounded a lot more tentative than that kiss had felt. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“It’s fine. I just have to go to work. I’ll call you soon. I promise.”

“Okay.” Dmitri wasn’t sure what else to say. It wasn’t like he could go back in for another kiss, that moment had passed, so he just gave a little half wave as Troy walked slowly into the bar, hands in his pockets, head down.

What was that all about? Dmitri knew he wasn’t the best at reading people, but Troy was giving him emotional whiplash. He needed to talk to Angel and he really could use a drink but going into Vincent’s would be awkward. This is why he didn’t date. Sighing, he walked down the alley towards the coffee shop and his car.

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