Book 4 in the Veterans Affairs gay romance series.

AVAILABLE JANUARY 20, 2017

PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON

CHAPTER ONE

The gold-plated dome of the Denver Capitol building gleamed against a cloudless blue sky. The Rocky Mountains, still snow-covered at the end of June thanks to late spring storms, rolled off into the west in ever-deepening shades of blue. Benito Quintaña pushed his sunglasses against his face, pulled his straw cowboy hat lower over his eyes, and checked out the parade of humanity passing by his booth at the Denver Pride celebration. His t-shirt lay draped across the bust of some Greek goddess, a black flag of surrender to the heat. His friend and coworker Chris Dobbs, a scrawny platinum blond who at twenty-two had artistic talent and a body of work Benny could only envy, twirled a fake fox tail between his fingers as he continued his quest to get Benny laid.

One late night when they’d been working non-stop trying to get Jay-Cee’s bronzes ready for a show, Benny had confessed that ever since he’d gotten clean and sober, casual sex had become orders of magnitude harder. Despite his horror of relationships, Chris had made it his mission to get Benny a boyfriend. It hadn’t worked out too well. This weekend, he’d switched tactics.

“If you don’t find someone to screw by Sunday, I’m going to jump you myself,” he’d said. “A pity fuck, and it’s me I’m taking pity on. I can’t take all this celibacy any more. You’re giving gays a good name. What’s wrong with you? Think of the baby gays who look to you for guidance. You might as well be straight with that kind of attitude.”

Benny had promised he would do his best. It’s not like he didn’t want to have sex again sometime before he died. And actually, hooking up with Chris wouldn’t suck. They’d done it once before, and it had been fun, but neither one was really each other’s type.

“What about him?” Chris asked, blatantly pointing at a barrel-chested, bearded white guy wearing a leather harness and bright red hot pants roller-skating slowly down the path through the park.

The guy saw them looking, smiled and did a little jump that had him skating backward past their booth. Chris clapped his appreciation and then blew the skater a kiss. The guy mimed catching it and slipping it down the front of his minuscule shorts.

“Too athletic,” Benny answered. “He probably jogs before work. I like my sleep.”

“More for me, then. You good here?”

Benny gave an exaggerated sweep of the completely empty booth. Expensive bronze statues weren’t exactly a huge draw and the hundred-degree heat wasn’t helping business any. “I think I can hold down the crowds.”

Chris clipped the foxtail to the back of his Daisy Duke jean shorts, tucked in his skin-tight white tank top, and grabbed Benny’s hat off his head. “Later then. Besos!” He hurried after the man on roller skates.

Benny backed deeper into the shadows of the canvas-sided booth. Dry heat or not, the sun burned through the thin mountain air, and even Benny’s olive skin would burn in no time. He checked his watch. Jay-Cee had said he’d be back after the parade to give Benny a break. Judging by the upsurge in sweaty, rainbow-drenched people wandering through the Civic Center Park, the parade had ended.

The music had started again. The ever-present bass thumping was so much a part of the day that Benny felt it in his veins more than heard it.

He people-watched idly from the shadows. The event drew all types, from crowds of young women with smiley-face pasties in lieu of shirts, to grey-haired couples holding hands, to presumably straight families with kids out being allies and enjoying the day.

One such family caught Benny’s eye as they stopped where every single other family had stopped the entire two days of the festival: at the air-conditioned kitten adoption booth. Okay, to be completely honest, it was mostly the dad who’d caught Benny’s eye.

A tall African-American man with long black dreadlocks pulled back into a low ponytail, wearing fitted dark blue jeans and a white-t-shirt, he was exactly the kind of man Benny liked. Not that he had anything against the hot pants and roller skate crowd. He’d been with many a guy who looked like that, and if you couldn’t get your freak on at Pride, where could you? But if asked with a gun to his head if he had a type, Benny would have to say yes. And Mr. Tall, Dark, and Straight over there was definitely it.

Even with a gun to his head, Benny would never admit that he had always wanted children of his own. Something about knowing that this guy was a dad made him extra sexy. He couldn’t tell if the kid was a boy or a girl. You never could be sure with small children and especially at a Pride event. Let’s go with a girl; not like he’d ever have to worry about insulting her to her face. Her dreads were left loose around her face, and rainbow wings and a rainbow tutu embellished her tiny dark jeans and white t-shirts.

The kid and her stylish-looking mom walked into the Plexiglas-fronted booth. Mr. Unobtainable stayed outside for a second. He raised his arms up, giving Benny front row seats to the gun show, and lifted the heavy hair off his neck with a sigh Benny heard from across the path. The way he blew the air out of his pursed lips gave Benny a funny feeling in his bathing suit area. It also reminded him of something or someone. Someone he couldn’t place, but damn it felt familiar.

Maybe he should let Chris try to find him a hook up for tonight. Bad enough he would be the only sober queer in the village, he didn’t have to be celibate as well. It would be nice to celebrate night 287 of sobriety with someone. (He always counted nights. Days were easy. Facing the nights sober was the hard part.)

The crowd blocked his view for a moment. The parade was definitely over, and the people needed overpriced drinks and honey-lavender artisan ice cream. Benny wasn’t judging; that ice cream was the bomb.

The hottie with the body across the way met Benny’s eyes through a break in the crowd.

Damn, but the guy looked familiar. Could Benny have slept with a guy that hot and forgotten it? Now that would be a shame. But he hadn’t been black-out drunk since moving to Colorado, so he’s pretty sure he would have remembered.

Before he could get a handle on the memory, the guy’s family came out of the booth – without a kitten – and dragged him down the path. Benny watched them until they got lost in the crowd.

 

Benny shouldn’t be here. He knew it. But damn he was tired of being home alone night after night, and everyone he knew in this state was here. He adjusted his luchador mask, tugging the shiny silver nylon around so he could see better out of the mesh-covered eye openings. At least this mask kept his mouth free, so he didn’t feel like he was completely suffocating. A short cape fluttered from his otherwise bare shoulder. The outfit was a cliché, he knew, but it was all he had been able to find on short notice. Chris hadn’t told him it was a Masquerade until the last minute. It’s a good thing he wasn’t a particularly large guy. It looked like most of the other guys had also shopped at the Slutty Whatever section of the costume store. But then again, people in blue spandex shorts shouldn’t throw stones. Really it was the blue and silver wrestling shoes that sold his outfit.

The music pounded in his head like a physical object trying to force its way out as he surveyed the crowd from the second story iron balcony. The lights flashed across his eyes, rainbow lasers streaking through the fog machine smoke and swinging up across the walls, sliding over the sweaty bodies writhing on the dance floor.

And what a view it was. Arms, shoulders, chests, backs, thighs, all on display for his appreciation. Hairy, smooth, burly, thin, Benny appreciated them all, loved his world of queers.

For all its flaws and minefields, places like this and people like these had saved Benny’s life.

He had joined the Marines before he was old enough to drink legally, storming off to the recruiter’s office in a fit of teenaged drama. He was at boot camp before he had time to process the enormity of what he’d done. If he’d thought being a gay in small-town New Mexico was a problem, it was nothing compared to the military. From one gun-toting macho culture to another even more heavily armed one. And though he’d gotten laid way more than he’d expected, you don’t learn how to be out and proud in the military. He hadn’t known shit at eighteen, and he knew even less five and a half years later when he’d gotten kicked out.

If it hadn’t been for the miraculous appearance of the person who would become his self-described fairy drag mother, Honey Dijon, he’d probably would have been dead or in jail before six months had passed.

 

When he and Uncle Sam had parted ways, he’d had no idea where to go, what to do. No way was he going back to New Mexico. So, like so many others lost souls, he’d drifted to California. If he was going to be homeless, he was at least going to be warm. He’d ended up in San Diego, on the couch of the girl of a buddy from his old unit. It was a win-win, Benny got a place to stay, and the buddy didn’t have to worry that some boot was fucking his wife while he was out fighting for God and country in the sandbox.

He’d been walking down some street in the Hillcrest area of San Diego, already drunk and with no particular destination in mind. All the bars he went to were full of sailors and Marines and the girls that hung around them. Not really what he was in the mood for that night, so he’d loaded up with some liquid courage and headed for the nicer, and pricier, gay bars up past the park.

A burgundy Lexus slowed down next to him, keeping pace. The window slid down, and cool air floated from the interior. A man’s voice called from the driver’s seat. “How much?”

Benny stopped walking. “What?”

The car stopped, and Benny moved closer, leaning in to see.

“How much?” the guy repeated. “Just a blowjob. I don’t have much time.”

“You want me to give you a blow job?” Benny stuck his head through the window. The cool air felt good.

“What are you deaf? Yeah, get your spic ass in here and blow me. What is it? Thirty? Forty?”

Benny blinked through the drunken haze, trying to focus his thoughts. Fuck off vied with forty bucks is forty bucks for supremacy. He peered at the guy. He looked a normal white forty-something businessman, probably had a wife and two kids somewhere in Escondido. Benny had sucked worse for free, and money was starting to be a serious issue. If the guy tried to pull anything funny, Benny could probably kick the guy’s ass unless he was some sort of secret ninja or something. As he weighed the pros and cons of turning his first trick, Benny realized there was someone in the back seat he hadn’t seen before. That, he didn’t like.

The mystery man reached out and grabbed Benny’s wrist.

Something that looked like a knife flashed past him from over his shoulder and smacked the guy hard on the back of his hand and he yanked it away with a curse.

A woman started cursing in a mix of English and street Mexican that was so rude it gave him the warm feeling of being back in the Corp for just a minute.

“You get your pinche ass out of here before I call my girls and we go all Grand Theft Auto on that piece of shit Lexis.”

The car pulled away from the curb with a squeal and a puff of burning rubber. Benny turned to thank his rescuer only to be faced with the most fabulous drag queen he’d ever seen in person.

Gold sequins dazzled his eyes. She was tiny, maybe five seven, but the four-inch platform heels brought her up to his almost six feet. She kind of reminded Benny of one of his cousins. Black hair fell in waves down to her cinched in waist; eyelashes fluttered like butterfly wings on her face.

“Honey, you must be new around here if you don’t recognize Creeper Phil’s car.” She looked him up and down, one eyebrow cocked. “You are too gorgeous for me not to have seen you before. Where you come from, beautiful?”

Benny straightened up. “Came from the Corp, ma’am.”

“Ma’am. I like that. He’s polite, Honey. Can we keep him?”

An imposing Queen Benny had somehow missed before joined their little tableau. She was taller than Benny, even without shoes, and the largest, reddest beehive hairdo Benny had ever seen added another eight inches to her height. Her eye makeup mimicked butterfly wings, stretching from her incredible lashes up towards her temples. Jeweled butterflies were clipped strategically in her hairdo. A red and black velvet gown hugged impossible curves.

The first woman hit the redhead with the same weapon she had used to defend Benny’s honor. Benny could see now that it was a folded up metal fan. “What did I tell you about picking up strays?”

“Make sure they’re cute?”

Honey rolled her eyes dramatically and turned back to Benny. “My name is Miss Honey Dijon, and this tall drink of water is Venus de MileHiLo.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Venus said holding out her hand.

“The pleasure is all mine,” Benny answered bending over her hand and kissing it.

“Hoo, baby we are completely keeping you.”

Benny reached for Honey’s hand and gave her the same treatment.

Venus looked him over, checking out his tight black jeans engineer boots and white tank top. “You sure we didn’t stop you from something you wanted to do?” Her voice was fascinating to Benny. A smooth liquid alto. Benny shifted from foot to foot and stuck his hands down deep into his pockets.

“Well, I didn’t exactly come out here fixin’ to hook, but money is kind of tight. The thought did cross my mind that it might be an easy way to make some quick money.”

Venus de MileHigh Lo and Honey Dijon exchanged glances. Honey shook her head, muttering to herself under her breath in Spanish. “Baby, how old are you?”

“Twenty-two. And a half.”

“Sweet baby Jesus. I got bad news for you, mijo, you got that baby face thing working for you. A niño like you won’t get that five o’clock shadow, but you’re almost too old for these chicken hawks out here. Why not just go get a real job?”

“I would love to ma’am, but I got bad paper following me, and there aren’t a lot of jobs for machine gunners out here in the real world.”

“I guess there wouldn’t be.” Honey took in the imploring look Venus was giving her. “Fine. You come with us. Honey will take care of you.” She tucked her arm through his and tugged him down the road. “Why do I do this? Okay, tell me all about yourself. Don’t leave anything out.”

Venus came around his other side, and he let himself be dragged away, feeling very much like Dorothy when she linked arms with the Tin Man and the Scarecrow and skipped down the yellow brick road.

The girls were both headlining a show at one of the big drag supper clubs and they plopped Benny behind the bar and told him to start washing glasses.

Thus began Benny’s introduction into the drag world of the International Court and the gay and drag club scene. They became his family. His mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. They worked hard and partied harder.

For the first time, he’d seen all different types of gay men being out and proud. Everybody had a place in the community, from the straight-looking businessmen to the twinkiest of twinks.

It had been great until it had all fallen apart.

So the clubs had saved his life, but then the dark underbelly had turned on him and, to save his life again, he’d had to leave. Honey had reached out to her extensive web of connections and gotten him a job in Jay-Cee’s studio, contingent on him joining and staying with AA. He had, and everything was going great.

All the more reason he really shouldn’t be here in this club.

Benny jostled his way to the second level of the multi-level dance floor. The open ironwork of the stairs and balconies maximized the see and be seen function of the club. The cheap black laminate bar looked like it had been bought at IKEA and Benny wondered what this place would look like in the light of day.

“Can you make a virgin michelada?” he shouted to the bartender over the roar of the crowd and the thump of house music. They guy looked thoughtful then reached under the bar, rummaging around for ten seconds before pulling out one at a time a non-alcoholic beer, a small bottle of Cholula hot sauce, a packet of soy sauce, and a bottle of Clamato juice. He held them up for Benny’s approval, and Benny gave him the thumbs up. Close enough. Actually, it was probably a little too close to the real thing to be safe. But nothing about Benny being in this club was safe. He really should go home.

And he would have. Really. If Mr. Tall Dark and Straight from the kitten booth hadn’t walked up to the bar, right then. Benny couldn’t be 100% sure it was the same guy. The hair and height and build all matched up, but a gorgeous mask covered most of his face. An intricately carved faux-bronze faceplate crowned by two winged horses rested on top of a black leather domino mask. The faceplate curved down the side of his cheeks and traced the length of his nose. Black plumes blossomed from the top of his mask, adding inches to his already impressive height. Below the ends of the mask, Benny could see his full lips and the faint five o’clock shadow on his cheeks. Leather straps crisscrossed his muscled chest, and a white loincloth flirted with the top of his thighs. Benny wanted to send flowers to whoever designed that costume and light candles to the gods that had joined this man with that outfit. Lord have mercy.

The Gladiator leaned against the bar, one foot up on the rail, chin nod in the direction of Benny’s drink. “Is that a michelada?” he yelled over the pounding of the music. There was a touch of an accent in the pronunciation. Not over-pronounced in that gringo trying to seem cool way, but as if he’d spent a lot of time around people who spoke Spanish.

“Kind of.”

Gladiator leaned forward over the bar to shout an order in the bartender’s ear. The rear view of the outfit was just as fine as the front. The white fabric rode up to hint at the curve of a muscled ass, and his rock-hard thighs and miles of silken-looking skin and back muscles were all on display.

Benny closed his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose. All the blood in his body was headed towards his dick, and spandex shorts didn’t exactly hide anything. He didn’t want to seem like a pervert right away.

The bartender handed the Gladiator of Benny’s dreams a shot glass in exchange for a credit card they guy pulled out from under the loincloth somewhere. Hey, that could be a conversation starter, the importance of pockets in loincloths. Benny’s own debit card poked into his calf from where he had shoved it down his fake wrestling boot.

The guy threw back the shot and turned back to Benny with a crooked smile. He opened his mouth to speak, but the roar of the crowd rose even louder. They both turned to check out what was happening. Four cages, each bearing a go-go boy wearing not much more than body paint and glitter, were being lowered to the stage. The DJ said something incomprehensible and the moaning and groaning layered over pounding techno that blared from the speakers could barely be called a song.

“Wanna dance?” Gladiator asked.

Benny nodded yes, and Gladiator Guy reached a hand back, pulling Benny behind him as they went down the stairs to the dance floor.

The dance floor was packed, sweaty, and steamy just like Benny liked it. The guy pulled them through the crowd, snaking their way to a clear spot in the middle. He put his hand on Benny’s hips and started grinding.

Benny wound his arms around the guy’s neck, hand sliding under the heavy weight of dreadlocks that hung down almost to the guy’s shoulder blades. “What’s your name?” He yelled directly into the guy’s ear. “I can’t keep calling you Gladiator Guy in my head.”

The guy turned his head until his mouth was almost touching Benny’s ear. “Michael,” he said. He nipped at Benny’s earlobe and his hand slid around to cup Benny. He pulled Benny tightly against him. “Is that good for you?”

Benny wasn’t sure if he meant the name or the ass grabbing, but both of them were fine in Benny’s book.

There was just so much skin. Their chests pressed together, sliding in the sweat between their bodies. Michael’s hands roamed all around Benny’s back and Benny couldn’t decide which part of Michael to touch first: his arms, his back, or his sculpted chest. Benny had seen a lot of sculptured chests in the last year, and this one was perfect.

Michael wedged his thigh between Benny’s legs dragging Benny up tightly against him, and now they had officially slipped from dancing into foreplay. Benny groaned. He could feel Michael hard against his hip. He really wanted to see what that looked like. He pulled back to peer down between their bodies. The way the white loincloth of Michael’s outfit tented up and the way the blue spandex outlined his arousal was obscene.

“Jesus,” Michael breathed. “You’re so fucking hot.”

Benny reached up carefully, sliding his fingers into the guy’s hair and tilting his head down. He leaned in, telegraphing his intent. “Can I?” he asked, not sure Michael could hear him over the music.

One of Michael’s hands flew to the back of Benny’s head, and his mouth crashed into Benny’s. Benny’s guessed the answer was yes.

When his fingers started teasing at the top of Benny’s shorts, Benny pulled away. He was going to come in his pants on the dance floor. They needed to get out here to someplace at least a little bit more private. He grabbed Michael’s hands. “Come with me.”

He led them through the crowd, behind the DJ booth, and past the bathrooms. Michael hesitated as they passed the bathroom door, but Benny just shook his head. Around the corner and down a dim hallway, there was a door marked Accessible bathroom.

Benny tried the handle. Unlocked, praise Jeebus. He pulled Michael through the door, then shut and locked it behind him. The automatic light flickered on, illuminating Michael’s body in all its glory.

 

They were both panting, chests heaving. Benny surged against Michael, pinning him to the door.

Their mouths came together in a clash of lips and teeth, Michael’s fingers tightening in Benny’s hair. Benny clamped a hand around Michael’s jaw, feeling the metal of the mask bite into his finger. Benny plundered Michael’s mouth, his hips grinding and rolling, rolling. Michael gave as good as he got. There was nothing soft, nothing tender about it.

His hands slid down the front of Benny’s shorts as he carefully eased the fabric over his length. Benny shuddered at the feel of his hand. “Oh, god,” he breathed out. It had way too long since he’d felt someone else’s hand on his dick. He pressed harder against Michael, sucking on his tongue.

He lost track of time as he floated close to the edge. Not wanting it to be over too fast, Benny pushed away and slid to his knees before Michael could complain.

Benny lifted up the loin cloth to find tighty whities. The huge erection pressing against the briefs and the way the white cotton contrasted with his dark skin was like something out of Benny’s favorite fantasies.

Michael’s hands tightened in Benny’s hair, and he moaned and groaned. “God, I’m so close.”

Benny had to hear him say his name. He pulled his mouth off but kept his hand working on Michael’s cock. “Benny. My name is Benny.”

Michael’s eyes opened wide, and he groaned like he was dying. “Oh shit, Benny, suck me. Please. Oh God, please.”

Benny did, and Michael came like a hurricane, thighs trembling under Benny’s hands. Benny leaned his head against Michael’s leg and finished himself off in two seconds flat. He kissed his way gently down Michael’s thighs as he pulled his briefs back up. Michael sat shakily on the floor next to Benny, shaking and trying to catch his breath.

“You okay?” Benny knew he was good, but that seemed like there was more to it than just a spectacular orgasm.

Michael nodded chest heaving. “Just that was my first time,” he said, reaching up to slide the elaborate mask off his face.

That looked like a great idea to Benny. He pulled his own mask off the fabric muffling whatever Michael was saying to him. Had he just said it was his first time?

“Is this your first blowjob?”

Michael chuckled. “First blowjob from a stranger in the bathroom. I gotta admit, I didn’t expect it to be so good.”

Benny loved his voice. It was deep and smooth. And his profile was so familiar; it nagged at a memory deep in Benny’s brain. “Well, we’re both sober, so that helps? Or maybe I’m just that good.”

Michael patted Benny’s arm. “Oh you’re good,” he assured Benny. “But it’s more than that. You have the same name as my best friend from high school. I haven’t seen him in about eight years, but I fantasized about him blowing me many, many times.”

He thought his brain might’ve actually stopped working as Michael kept talking. Face flushed hot, then cold. The word ‘no’ kept repeating in his head. No. No. He couldn’t be. He pushed himself away from the wall scrambling across the cold tiles on hands and knees, not trusting his legs to hold him up.

“What the?”

Benny stopped crawling when his head hit the far wall, and he turned, sitting huddled against the wall knees drawn up arms wrapped around his knees. He stared at Michael.

“Benny?” Michael started to rise.

Benny could see the second that it hit him. Michael stopped mid-crouch. “Benny?” His head was shaking back and forth denying the reality between them. “Oh no. God. Benito.” He dropped back heavily to the floor.

They stared at each other across the foot of open space separating them. If Benny slid his foot forward just a little he could touch Michael. “Hey, Mikey,” he said. “Nice costume.”

Michael’s mouth dropped open. He stared, then closed it with a click. “Yeah. You too.”

There was banging on the door, and somebody yelled, “Come on, other people need to use this, too.”

Benny pushed himself up. He stood staring at the floor and tried to pull his useless cape around himself. Of all, the hundred million ways he’d imagined seeing Michael again, that he might be half naked with his mouth on Michael’s dick had never, ever occurred to him.

Michael slowly stood up, grabbing his mask and Benny’s. He handed it silently to Benny. Benny fought the urge to pull the mask back down over his face. “Let’s get out of here.”

They pulled open the door to see two guys plastered together front to back. The guy in front nodded, eyebrows raised. “Nice costumes.” The other guy pushed him into the room, and the door swung closed behind them.

Benny expected Michael to run screaming through the crowd and was stunned when he stopped and beckoned for Benny to follow him through the exit door at the end of the hall.

 

CHAPTER TWO

The night was marginally cooler than the day had been, and the outdoor patio was slightly less packed than the indoor dance space. Benny followed Mikey to an open space on the fence. He signaled to a passing waiter and ordered two Coronas.

“I saw you earlier today,” Benny said. “At Pride.”

“Yeah?” Mikey leaned his elbows against the railing and stared out at the headlights of passing traffic.

“Yeah. You were with who I’m pretty sure was your wife and kid? At the kitten booth?” Benny fought the urge to run his hands down the line of Mikey’s back.

“Oh, that. Kid, yes wife, no.” He turned back to Benny.

Benny couldn’t make out the look in his eye. He didn’t seem angry, but he wasn’t smiling either. “Then who was that – oh God, tell me that it wasn’t.”

Mikey nodded. “Vanessa.”

“Fabulous. She loved me so much before I left. I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to see me.” Oh, wait. Mikey would never want to see him again, so it didn’t matter. “Not that she will have to.”

“Hey, if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have met tonight. She’s got Jasmine overnight.”

The waiter came back and handed them each a bottle of beer. Michael held his out in a toast. “To helpful big sisters and new experiences.” That time he smiled.

Benny clanked the neck of their bottles together. Mikey always could make him laugh. He touched the mouth of the bottle to his lips, not drinking even though every cell in his body screamed for him to throw it back.

Michael sighed deeply as the cold liquid slid down his throat, and Benny felt an irrational surge of anger and jealousy. Adrenaline letdown from the shock of the revelation of who he had just hooked up with and post orgasm lassitude started to catch up with Benny. His head pounded, pain building behind his eyes. Carefully, he rolled the cold glass bottle across his forehead. Then he rested it on the back of his neck in an attempt to alleviate the pain. Benny pressed the heels of his hands against his temples. It felt like if he could just press hard enough, he could force the broken piece of his brain back together and stop the pain.

“Headache?” Mikey asked.

Benny closed his eyes and nodded.

Michael crossed the distance between them and leaned down to whisper in his ear. Despite all the emotions swirling in his pounding head, Benny’s body stirred at the heat radiating from Mikey’s body. Mikey’s hand on his arm sent shudders across Benny’s skin. “Do you want to get out of here?” Mikey asked?

Benny did. He didn’t know where they were going to go, what they were going to say but he didn’t want to be at this club anymore. The bottle felt too good in his hand, and he could hear its friends beckoning from behind the bar. They promised to ease the pounding in his head, to smooth over the awkwardness of this unexpected reunion, and to give him the confidence to face his past and lie directly to it.

He followed Mikey through the crowd, stopping at the end of the bar. Before he could think better of it, he tilted the bottle, drank half of it down in one swallow, and then placed it on the end of the bar. He nodded decisively and started to walk away. He got two steps before turning back to the bar. He grabbed the bottle just before the bartender cleared it off and finished it off. That should take the edge off. “Okay,” he said mostly to himself. “Okay.”

 

THEY GO TO CHRIS’S APARTMENT

Benny got his phone and bag from the coat check. Luchador outfits, unlike Gladiator costumes, did not come with pockets.

They walked slowly to the parking lot. With so much between them that they weren’t talking about right now, Benny couldn’t think of a safe thing to say. He did have one question. “So, where we going?”

Mikey slowed to a stop. “I have no idea. A diner? Coffee shop? I don’t know.”

“My place?” Benny offered tentatively. “The friend’s apartment I’m crashing at this weekend. I don’t live there.” He hoped Mikey said yes. He needed to be somewhere familiar and safe right now.

Mikey studied Benny’s face. Benny had no idea what he saw there because he didn’t have a good handle on how he was feeling.

“Yeah, okay. Sounds good. I can take off this ridiculous outfit.” The deep timbre of his voice did things to Benny. He could have sworn they had both been finished growing up at eighteen, but apparently Mikey had had some puberty left to finish. The puberty fairy had been extremely generous. He couldn’t stop himself from checking his friend out once again, eyes dragging across the miles of smooth dark skin and smooth muscles.

“Oh, It’s definitely not ridiculous, and I think you should leave it on. Though I’ll be happy to help you out of it.” Benny flirted automatically, and then mentally cringed. He shouldn’t be flirting with Mikey, should he? It was as if there were two Mikeys. One, the sweet, funny, serious eighteen-year-old best friend he remembered and the second this gorgeous, solid-looking, serious and funny grown man standing in front of him. Benny wanted both of them.

“Okay.” Mikey smiled, tugging on the one dreadlock that hung differently than the others, sneaking forward over his right shoulder rather than hanging down the back like the rest.

The club sat in an industrial area of town. Despite the late hour, there were still men in every costume imaginable pouring out of cabs and Ubers to wait in line to get in. Mikey pointed. “Want to try and grab one of those taxis?”

“I got a car.”

“Oh, okay.”

As Benny walked, he texted Chris to let him know he was headed back to the apartment. You home?

Chris answered quickly. In what world would I be home at 11pm on Pride weekend?

Good answer. I’m coming home. Head’s up. Not alone.

Le gasp! Little Benny bringing a boy home to meet his parents?

I’m hoping he doesn’t have to meet you. Don’t want to scare him.

Benny’s phone vibrated relentlessly with the slew of text’s Chris sent during the thirty-second walk to the car. Benny settled into the passenger seat of Mikey’s non-descript silver Altima. He buckled up and gave Mikey the first set of directions to Chris’ apartment. He checked his phone while Mikey searched for some music.

Who is he? Chris had asked about five times, each time adding more and more exclamation marks and poop emojis.

It’s complicated. Benny texted back.

Ooh, like facebook complicated, or I’m fucking my boss complicated?

Kind of the second.

Chris responded with a line of big-eyed emojis followed by some pornographic ones Benny had never seen before and an all caps message. DETAILS. TOMORROW. YOU GET YOU SOME. KISSES!XOXOXO

Benny laughed.

Mikey looked over and raised his eyebrows.

“Chris.” Benny lifted the phone in explanation. “It’s his place I’m crashing at.”

“Hmm. Good friend?” Mikey turned back to the road.

“Yeah. My best friend here in Colorado. He’s a good guy. Great artist.”

“Yeah?” Mikey swung smoothly onto the highway. “You doing the art thing finally?”

Benny sighed and looked out the window, watching the lights flow past. “Can we add that to the list of things we’ll talk about later.”

“It’s quite a long list.”

“Yeah. No shit.”

With Benny pointing out turns, they got to Chris’ apartment in ten minutes. Denver closed down a lot earlier than San Diego and late night traffic was non-existent. It had taken Benny a while to get used to keeping farmer’s hours as Chris called them. Now he found he liked it. It helped him keep a real job. Red Deer had zero nightlife to speak of anyway.

Benny flicked on the overhead light as they walked in. Chris’s apartment reflected his artistic interior rather than the party boy exterior he carefully cultivated. Prints of his digital art hung on the walls. They depicted cozy domestic scenes in plant-filled apartments and on rainy balconies. Young men in comfy sweatpants or soft pajamas lounged in sunlit breakfast nooks watching the world outside their windows. They could be illustrations from Chris’s life.

“Nice place,” Mikey said. He put his mask and the small bag he had grabbed from the backseat of his car on the sofa. “Are those his prints?”

“Yeah.”

“He’s good.”

“Yeah.” Mikey walked to the small open kitchen. He desperately needed something to drink to get the taste of beer out of his mouth. It had taken all his willpower to stop himself from asking Mikey to pull into the drive-through liquor store. “You want something to drink?”

“Sure.” Mikey joined him. “What do you got?”

Holding his breath, Benny opened the fridge. “We got water, iced tea. Couple of different kinds of coke. And…” He picked up a can to check it. “Soda water.”

“No beer?”

Benny shook his head and checked out the top of the fridge where Chris usually kept his alcohol. Empty. Chris wasn’t a big drinker, and he usually cleaned the place out when he knew Benny would be staying over. Benny had told him more than once that it wasn’t necessary, but tonight he was damn glad of the consideration.

“Sorry. Looks like we’re dry in here tonight.”

“Whatever you feel like pouring then. But no Dr. Pepper. I hate that stuff.”

“Yeah, I know.” Benny grabbed two cans of ginger ale. He didn’t trust himself with glasses and ice. His whole body vibrated with the knowledge that Mikey was actually here and standing behind him. The memory of the way his thighs felt trembling under Benny’s hands, the way he kissed, the sounds he made when he came, and the taste of him pushed all other thoughts out of Benny’s mind. The fantasies he had for years hadn’t come close to matching the reality.

Benny took the ginger ale and eyed the can suspiciously. “This stuff always makes me remember being sick. Like it should only be served with saltines.”

They toasted with the cans, and then sat down on the small sofa.

“Let’s make a list of things we don’t want to talk about tonight. I’ll start. The Marines. Now you go.

“Jasmine. My kid.”

“Art school.”

“Law school.”

“Why I didn’t go back to New Mexico.”

“Julia, Jasmine’s mom.”

“San Diego.”

Benny raises his eyebrows. “When were you in San Diego?”

“We’re not talking about it. Your turn.”

“Okay. My parents moving to India before Jasmine was born.”

Benny snorted at that. He shook his head sadly. “I feel like you’re winning this game and, truthfully, I’m kind of shocked. I thought it would be me.”

“Winning this game feels an awful lot like losing at life.”

“No such thing. Okay, what else?”

The silence stretched as they both wracked their brains for either something to talk about or something to avoid talking about. “Grant Hansen,” they said, almost simultaneously. They both laughed.

Benny crushed the soda can in his hand. “How about what happened in the club? Can we talk about that?”

Mikey licked his lips and angled more towards Benny. “Which thing that happened in the club? Your terrible dancing? I could talk about that all night. I wish I had video.”

Benny slid closer on the couch to punch Mikey in the arm. He stayed there, their knees touching. “No,” he said, leaning in towards Mikey. “The part where you said you’d been fantasizing about me.”

Mikey licked his lips and took a sip from the nearly empty soda can to avoid looking at Benny.

“Was it true?”

Mikey took a deep inhale, held his breath while he stared at Benny’s eyes. Benny prayed that for once in his life there wasn’t an ounce of mockery in his expression. The answer was important.

Mikey let the air out of his lungs in a long exhale. “It’s true.”

Benny slid his arm around the back of the couch, fingers just brushing Mikey’s shoulder. “So you’re gay now?”

Mikey’s eyes dropped to Benny’s mouth back up again to meet Benny’s gaze. “Bi.”

Benny raised one eyebrow skeptically, and leaned forward over Mikey.

“It’s a real thing, asshole.” He smacked Benny in the chest with the flat of his hand.

Benny grabbed his hand keeping it pressed up into his chest. “Keep telling yourself that.”

“Jerk.”

Benny shifted up onto his knees, leaning Mikey back against the arm of the sofa. “What about that blowjob I gave you that almost made you see God? Can we talk about that?”

“I don’t really feel like talking anymore.”

“Me neither.” Benny closed the distance between them, reaching down to kiss his once and hopefully future best friend.

How do you describe a kiss? They’d already made out in the bathroom, but he hadn’t known who he’d been kissing. This was different. This kiss counted.

Mikey’s mouth was warm and soft. He tasted slightly of the beer from earlier and way his teeth bit gently into Benny’s lower lip sent chills running down Benny’s spine. Benny braced his arms and spread his legs, wedging one between Mikey and the back of the couch. Mikey’s hard thighs felt amazing between Benny’s legs. He squeezed, just to feel them better.

Mikey slipped his arm up under Benny’s, grabbing his shoulder to pull him down more. His strong fingers pressed down hard into the muscle between Benny’s neck and shoulder, and Benny groaned in surprised pleasure. “Holy crap, that feels good.”

Mikey slipped his other hand up to Benny’s shoulder and did the same thing on that side. “You’re so tight.”

“Oh, honey, you ain’t seen tight yet.”

Mikey’s snorted laugh was simultaneously unsexy and adorable.

Benny let himself fall completely down onto Mikey. “Will you think I’m a tramp if I ask you if we can move to the bedroom?”

Mikey’s hands roamed up and down Benny’s back. “I already think you’re a tramp for hooking up with a stranger in a bathroom.” He put a hand behind Benny’s head and rolled them off the couch. He landed on top of Benny. “Didn’t your momma teach you better than that?”

Benny grabbed Mikey’s ass with both hands and pulled him down, spreading his legs and thrusting his hips to get the friction exactly where he needed it. “She tried,” he said sadly, stretching his head back to give Mikey the access to his neck he seemed to be searching for. “I was just a rebellious kid.”

Mikey stopped nipping and sucking on Benny’s neck to pull back and look him in the eye. “You were a drama queen.”

“If you don’t put your mouth back on me right now, I’ll show you drama.”

Mikey laughed and slid gracefully back onto his haunches, sitting between Benny’s legs. He ran his hands up and down Benny’s thighs from the inside of his knee and up to the crease of his hip, thumbs ghosting against the swell of Benny’s cock. Benny propped himself up on his elbows and watched Mikey’s expression as he watched his hands moving over the tan skin and blue spandex.

“Is this weird?” He wouldn’t meet Benny’s eyes.

“A little.”

Now he looked up. “Do you want to stop?”

Benny shook his head back and forth slowly. “Do you?”

“No.”

His heart pounded in his chest at the look in Mikey’s eyes when their eyes met again and his breath caught in his throat.

This was Mikey he was about to fuck. And it wouldn’t be just sex. It couldn’t be. If felt like his past and future were coming together, balancing on this small moment in the present. He could almost see the different paths leading from here. So many opportunities to screw up, so many tears and heartbreak.

He always imagined somewhere, some time, when he finally had his act together, he would go back home, find Mikey, and say ‘Look at me now. What do you think?’

Now some time was here, and he was still so far from together; nothing but a damaged mess of failures and insecurities. His breath came faster, and he struggled to breathe.

“Are you scared?” Mikey asked.

Benny nodded.

“Me, too. Can I kiss you again?”

Benny nodded.

Mikey leaned forward gently, shifting up until they kneeled facing each other on the floor. Hands on Benny’s shoulders, he kissed Benny once. A small thing, lips closed. Then he did it again. And again. His big warm hand cupping Benny’s face. Holding him still.

Benny clutched at Mikey’s arms. Arms that felt strong enough to hold them both. He felt the solid realness of this Mikey, this perfect man, and in his kisses, he felt the love and friendship that had been his rock and protection since he’d been an arty gay kid in an oil town school. Love and friendship Benny had thought he’d lost between one breath and the next all those years ago.

Mikey wiped away the tears that slipped from beneath Benny’s closed eyelids. “Shh,” he whispered. “It’s okay.” He gave Benny more of those soft kisses that tore Benny apart in a way nothing else ever had. “It’s okay. I’m sorry.”

Benny’s breath caught on a sob. “Oh, no. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Mikey sat down, back against the couch, and pulled Benny against him, tucking him under his arm. “Sorry, I let you down that night.”

Benny pushed his face against Mikey’s shoulder, rubbing tears into the skin. “I’m sorry I ran away. Sorry, I didn’t call. I missed you too much. I missed you all the time. I thought -“ His voice cracked and he sniffled. “I thought you hated me.”

“Never. Not for one second.”

Benny laughed softly and lifted his head for more of the kisses he was quickly getting addicted to. And Benny knew from addiction. Going cold turkey from Mikey again would kill him. “I liked it better when we weren’t talking,” he joked.

Mikey’s arm tightened around him. “Yeah. Me, too. You still scared?”

“Terrified.”

“Yeah, me, too.” Mikey sighed and leaned his head back against the couch. “I’m beat. Would you be offended if we didn’t, you know?” He waved his hand in a small circle, encompassing both of them.

Benny’s body sagged with relief. Part of him wanted to, badly, but that part also wanted to get drunk, shag Mikey unconscious and then run away while he was still sleeping. That part could shut the hell up. “Yeah. No. You okay with that?”

“Do you think Chris would mind if I used his shower?”

“No. Go ahead.” Benny sat up and ran both hands through his hair. “I could use one, too. Are you hungry? I’m starving.”

“Oh, man. I wasn’t until you said something. Now I am.” Mikey stood up, looking down at Benny.

Even though they weren’t going to ‘you know,’ Benny couldn’t resist running a hand up the back of Mikey’s leg. Mikey’s shiver was rewarding. Benny dug his thumb into the hard muscle of Mikey’s thighs. “You’re like a rock, dude. I think you’re bigger than you were in high school. How much do you lift?”

Mikey laughed, teeth bright and eyes shining. He reached a hand down to help Benny up, and Benny fell a little in love. Mikey reached behind Benny and lifted him up easily. Benny wrapped his legs around Mikey’s hips and his arms around Mikey’s shoulder. “I can lift enough,” Mikey said.

“Yeah, you can.” Benny kissed him, somewhere in between the heartbreak kisses of before and animal urgency of the club.

Mikey groaned and loosened his hold.

Benny unwrapped his legs from Mikey’s hips, and slid them down until he could stand. They were both breathing heavily again, but Benny was okay with that. For the first time in his life, it seemed important not to rush into this. He knew that if he wanted his future to look different than his past, he had to leave his scorched-earth policy of screwing around behind him. It had damaged him as much as the drinking.

“So? Pizza?”

“Pizza sound great. Sausage?”

“You got it.”

Benny showed him where the shower was, phoned for pizza, and flicked on the television.

Forty minutes later, he and Mikey were sitting side by side on the couch, shoveling pizza in their mouths and watching things blow up, just like old times. And if Benny pressed his leg against Mikey’s and breathed deeply to get that Mikey smell deep into his lungs, well, that was just like old times, too.

The way he woke up later, to Mikey pressed up hard against his back, lips on Benny’s shoulders, that was brand new.

 

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