by Matthew Haldeman-Time
I am writing about men having sex with other men. You must be eighteen or older to read my fiction. This site is for consenting, responsible adults only.
Sometimes he wondered if everyone did that. Sometimes he wondered if something was wrong with him, if he was unhappier than he realized.
He had a good life. He had a boyfriend who didn’t cheat on him too often. He had a good family that loved him. He had a few friends from the clubs, a few friends from work, a few old friends from college that he still kept in touch with. His lifestyle wasn’t by any means extravagant, but his bills were paid.
But sometimes, as he approached the Janville exit, he wanted to keep going straight, to drive on and find out what would happen.
Maybe that meant that he should get a new job. Maybe it wasn’t his life overall that he wanted to avoid, but work.
Or maybe there was something down that road, calling to him.
As soon as he missed the exit, he checked the clock. If he took the next exit, he could make it.
If he turned back now, he’d be at work on time.
If he went back now, he’d be late, but it’d be okay.
Maybe he could say that he’d forgotten about coming in early.
Having these thoughts, calculating time, Cameron drove past each successive exit. Kept going.
He didn’t have a destination in mind. He didn’t know how far he’d drive. He didn’t know when he’d go back home. He didn’t know how he’d explain not showing up for work. He didn’t know if he’d have a job when he went back.
He didn’t intend to abandon his entire life. He’d return. He just wanted this one day away from everything, away from everyone. One day to himself.
It wasn’t practical not to go back. Running away forever with just the money in his wallet, with a car and credit cards, wasn’t practical.
Then again, why the hell not? What ties did he have in the world reflected in the rearview mirror? He had no family there. He had an apartment, but it wasn’t a great apartment. He had furniture, clothes - - he couldn’t afford a whole hell of a lot, but furniture and clothes were replaceable. He had a too-old, too-small TV, a computer that malfunctioned about as often as it worked, and a boyfriend who screwed around on him. Going room by room in his mind, all he really needed was a box in his closet that held important papers like his birth certificate, his passport, and a few old pictures.
What really did tie him to his current life? Habit? Was that all his reality was? Why hadn’t he pushed for more? Why hadn’t he ever found more of a purpose?
Cameron searched back in his memory for a time when he’d been really happy. Not just laughing, but satisfied with the state of his existence. Excited about something. Interested, driven.
In college, when he’d been involved in LGBTA activities, that had been great. He’d really felt like he was part of a larger cause.
In high school, when he’d worked behind the scenes on the fall play and spring musical, decorating the sets, he’d liked that, too. Constructing, painting. He’d really been proud of some of that work.
Maybe he could do those things again. Join another organization, work for another cause. Find a local theater and see if they needed a set designer or a stage hand. Those had been fulfilling activities.
Smiling, Cameron turned off his cell phone and turned on the radio. As long as he was ditching his life for a day, he might as well enjoy himself. More cars were appearing on the road as rush hour traffic picked up. All of the pop stations he liked were on commercial breaks or playing songs he couldn’t stand, so he found an oldies station.
He sang along, easing into the fast lane.
He swung onto the interstate. Maybe he’d see how Oklahoma was doing. He’d never been there; it was probably nice.
He was unsure about leaving the interstate, because the farther away from home he got, the less certain he was about how to get back. At least if he stuck to the interstate, he’d know - - although…
Did he really want to go home?
Of course he’d have to go home, at some point. For the box of papers, if nothing else. But…
Maybe Oklahoma was a nice place to live. Or Michigan. Or Oregon. Why not move somewhere else? Why not drive until he found a nice little town, and then settle in?
He wouldn’t really do that, though. He was getting silly, now.
But didn’t people do that all of the time? Just pick up and move? Why couldn’t he? If he got a new job soon enough, he could make it work. And, if he didn’t like his new place of residence, he could just find another.
Cameron had never been nomadic. His life had always been too structured. Childhood. College. Job. But couldn’t there be more to life?
He eyed passing signs. Read the names of upcoming cities and wondered what they were like.
He could live anywhere. His current apartment wasn’t a huge thrill; he wouldn’t mind leaving it. He’d probably need a new job anyway, after not showing up for work today. Why not get that new job in a new city?
As he traveled, he compiled a mental list of the things he wanted to do in his new life.
First, find a local organization working for a good cause, and join it. A gay rights group, probably, but maybe a political campaign, or maybe something else. He’d see what his new community had to offer. And if it didn’t have anything satisfactory, maybe he could start a local chapter of something, himself. Or maybe he was getting too ambitious.
Second, find a local theater, and paint a few sets.
Third, find a job that he liked. Chronologically, getting a job had to be first, but third on his list was finding a job that he actually liked. Something he really wanted to do. His current set of job skills was fairly specific; he tracked expenses extremely well, and he could write one hell of a good memo. But was that what he wanted to do for the rest of his life?
Fourth, get a dog. He wanted a dog.
Fifth, make good friends. Not self-involved, irresponsible, borderline alcoholic friends. Good friends, mature people who liked to have fun but not at other people’s expense. He didn’t require a lot of friends; between work, the theater, and the worthy cause, he was bound to stumble upon a few people.
Sixth, find a boyfriend. He didn’t want to get too desperate and aggressive about that. It would happen naturally, if he got out there and circulated and lived his life. Or so he hoped.
If he went home to get his box of papers, he could get his clothes and furniture, too. So he wouldn’t have to shell out a lot of extra money for new stuff.
Things were shaping up pretty well. Now all he needed to do was decide where to start his new life.
Before he found his new home, though, he had to find some food. He was starving. When he saw a sign for fast food up ahead, he took the exit. Skipping the familiar places, he located a restaurant he’d never heard of, Smiley’s. After pulling into the parking lot, he went inside, used the bathroom, and looked around. It was a clean little diner kind of a place. The hostess led him to a booth, leaving him there with a menu.
He turned the laminated pages, wondering if he should get what he always got, or try something different. Not that the menu had anything grand or exotic on it, but he could still try something he wouldn’t habitually order.
“Hi, my name’s Tonio, can I get you something to drink?”
Cameron looked up and fell in love.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Tonio repeated, in case the guy hadn’t heard him the first time.
The guy visibly snapped back to reality, like he’d been somewhere else, his gaze clearing. “I’m sorry. Water, please.” His color heightened; he looked back down at the menu.
“Okay,” Tonio said, marking it on his pad. “Do you know what you want to order, or should I come back?”
Suddenly, “No, Coke,” the guy said, like it was an important decision. “No, Mountain Dew, please.”
“We have Sprite,” Tonio said, wondering why a drink mattered this much.
“Sprite,” the guy said firmly. “Without ice.”
“Sprite, no ice,” Tonio said, wondering if the rest of the order would be this complicated. “Can I get you anything else?”
The guy smiled at him. “I’d like the third, tenth, and twenty-seventh things on the menu, please.”
“The what?” Tonio asked. He was used to weird customers, but this was new.
“The third, tenth, and twenty-seventh things on the menu,” he said.
“Okay,” Tonio said, and pulled the menu toward himself. “That would be… Mozzarella sticks, grits, and apple pie.” He looked at the guy. “You want mozzarella sticks, grits, and apple pie?”
For a moment, the guy looked daunted, but resolve kicked in. “Yes.”
“Okay.” This was just strange, and maybe the guy had a reason for ordering those things, but Tonio couldn’t see those foods as making a complete meal. He had to offer to help the guy out. “You want anything else? The…” He counted. “Sixteenth thing, too? A chicken salad sandwich, maybe?”
What a terrific smile. “That would be great, thanks.”
“Okay.” Bizarre. “I’ll have that for you in a few minutes.”
The guy looked so damned happy, Tonio smiled back.
“He said, the third, the tenth, and the twenty-seventh things on the menu,” Tonio said, pushing the button for Sprite. “Shit, no ice,” he muttered to himself, and started over. “He ordered his drink about five different ways, too. First, it was water. Then Coke. Then Mountain Dew with no ice.”
“Is he afflicted?” Luis asked.
“He seems nice,” Tonio said. “Maybe a little confused, I don’t know. He’s at 5B, the guy in the suit. Maybe work stressed him out.”
“You think he orders those numbers at every restaurant?” Luis asked. “And just eats whatever they are?”
“I don’t know,” Tonio said. “It seemed like a new thing, because he was kind of surprised that it didn’t work out.” Carrying the soda, he walked back out to the guy’s table. “Here you go,” he said, setting down the drink and putting a straw beside it. “Your lunch should be out soon. Can I get you anything else?”
“Is this a good place to live?” the guy asked.
“Lenburg?” Tonio asked. “Sure, it’s okay. I don’t actually live here, I live over in Camville.”
His eyebrows went up. “Camville?”
“It’s fifteen minutes that way,” Tonio said, gesturing. The diner was right off the interstate, and sometimes that brought in tourists and travelers, plus the guy seemed unfamiliar with the area, plus the accent was wrong. “You’re not from around here?” Chatting with the diners usually helped on the tip, things were slow, and the guy was cute and possibly in need of help. “On a business trip?”
The guy looked down, like he hadn’t realized he had on a suit. With a sound of disgust, he shed his jacket, leaving it rumpled beside him, whipping his tie off, too, and rolling up his sleeves. “No,” he said firmly.
Tonio almost laughed. “Okay.”
“Camville, what’s that like?” the guy asked, with puzzled interest.
“I think it’s great,” Tonio said, “but I grew up there. They don’t have a lot going on, it’s a pretty small town. Most of the clubs are in Lenburg, and the water park is in Crofton. Camville just has a library and a drama group.”
“A drama group?” the guy asked, fascinated.
“The Camville Players,” Tonio said. “My sister’s one of them, she’s Portia in Merchant of Venice right now. If you want to see them, they’re doing a show tonight in the Camville Playhouse.”
“Camville,” the guy said to himself. “This is crazy.”
“I’ll go check on your sandwich,” Tonio said, to give him some time to sort out whatever was going on inside his head. “Do you want your mozzarella sticks ahead of everything else?”
“No, it doesn’t matter, whatever works for you,” the guy said, clearly distracted. “Camville?” he asked himself.
“Shut up,” Tonio muttered, picking up plates. “I hope it’s okay that chicken salad comes with fries. That might mess up his system.”
“He likes you,” Luis said. “What were you two talking about?”
“I was telling him about the Camville Players,” Tonio said, and it sounded ridiculous. “I think he wants to see a play. Or…something.” It wasn’t that clear.
“You could take him out tonight,” Luis said. “Take him to a play, take off the rest of his clothes…”
“Shut up,” Tonio said again. Balancing dishes, he took everything over to the table. “Here you go,” he said, setting down plates. “Chicken salad sandwich, grits, mozzarella sticks. I brought the apple pie, too. Can I get you anything else?”
“I’ve never had grits,” the guy said, looking at the bowl. “What’s the point?”
“You’ve never had grits?” Tonio asked. “Where are you from?”
“New Jersey,” he said. “Boston. Texas.”
That explained the accent. “They eat grits in Texas.”
“No one I know does,” the guy said.
“You want me to take them back?”
“No, I’ll eat them,” he said. “I’m just not sure why.” He picked up his spoon and-
“No, not like that,” Tonio said. “Do you eat salt and butter?”
“I do today.”
“Then let me fix this for you,” he said, sliding the bowl closer. He opened the pats of butter and scooped them into the bowl, sprinkling in salt and stirring everything together. “There. Grits.”
“That can’t be healthy,” the guy said, but he seemed intrigued. He tried a spoonful. “They’re good,” he said, sounding surprised. He gave Tonio a smile. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Tonio said.
“I don’t know,” Tonio said, picking up plates for another table.
“You should ask him out.”
“No, I shouldn’t,” Tonio said. He’d get in trouble if his manager found out. The guy was really cute, and charming in an innocent way, but, “It’s not like he’s staying.”
“When are you going to figure out that you can fuck someone and never see him again?” Luis asked.
“I’m too old for that,” Tonio said.
“You’re never too old for that,” Luis said.
“This is great,” the guy said. He sure did smile a lot. “Do you have time? Can I ask you a few questions?”
“Um… Sure,” Tonio said, giving the other tables a quick, assessing glance. He sat down, but on the edge of the seat, like he was just about to get up, which he’d have to do if his manager saw him.
“Are there jobs in Camville?”
“Not a lot of big office jobs,” Tonio said. “There are probably places that are hiring, but it’s mostly a lot of little shops, small businesses. There are more jobs here in Lenburg.”
“Are there apartment buildings in Camville?”
“Not apartment buildings, no,” Tonio said. “Sometimes people rent out other people’s basements, and some people rent houses for what an apartment costs in other places. There are apartments in Lenburg, though.” He sounded like a Lenburg commercial. It was just that Camville was too small to have much of anything.
“You live in Camville.”
“With my brothers,” Tonio said. “We have a little house.”
“Are there any…organizations around here?”
Was that code for something? “I don’t know what you mean,” Tonio said. “What kind of organizations are you looking for?”
“Gay rights, human rights, Democratic campaigns…” The guy’s voice trailed off as Tonio grinned at him.
“You’ve come to the right person,” Tonio said, pulling out his wallet and offering the guy a card.
“LGBTO?” Cameron asked, wondering if he were in a dream.
“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Oklahoma,” Tonio said.
“This is you?” Cameron asked.
That was a beautiful smile. “That’s me. Director, founder, president, and CEO.”
Antonio Alvarez. “Are you accepting new members?” How could everything come together so easily?
“We would love new members,” Tonio said. “All state residents are welcome to join us. Officers and board members meet each Monday and send out e-mail updates every Tuesday. General meetings are the first Wednesday of every month in fabulous downtown Lenburg. Three times a year we go to Tulsa.” He finished his spiel with another beautiful smile.
Tonio was clearly in his element and proud of his organization; Cameron was immediately proud of it, too, and proud of him for it. His dark eyes were entrancing, and his black hair looked incredibly touchable, and Cameron finally understood what it was about him that was so richly fascinating.
Tonio lived life. Tonio had a purpose. Tonio had a goal and an interest and a passion. Probably more than one, but a strong one, at least. He wasn’t just going through the motions and walking through the steps of life; he was driven, and in control.
He’d founded a gay rights group, his sister was in the theater, and he lived in Camville, of all places. Not to mention, he had fabulous dark eyes and a sexy stroll and what appeared to be a very nice body. On top of which, he was friendly. Cameron couldn’t have dreamed up a more ideal person.
It was Monday. “You’re having a meeting tonight?”
“The other officers and board members, yeah. And a few regular members who take the time. It’ll start as soon as I get out of here.”
“Would you… Could I come?” Cameron asked. Everything was falling into place; he didn’t dare not pursue it.
Hesitation flickered across Tonio’s face, followed by a welcoming smile. “Sure, if you want to. I’m off in half an hour. You can follow me, if you want.”
“That’d be great, thank you,” Cameron said. Perfect, perfect, everything was perfect. “You don’t know how happy I am that I’ve met you.”
“That smile’s telling me all about it,” Tonio said with a grin.
“Cameron,” Cameron said, shaking the offered hand, puzzled.
“Tonio’ll be out in a minute.”
“Are you…” Cameron didn’t know how to finish the question.
“I’m his brother,” Luis said. “You’ll meet the rest of us at the house.”
“The meetings are at your house?” Cameron asked. That made sense; they wouldn’t have to rent a space once a week.
“He put me and Alejandro on the board so we’d let him hold meetings at the house. And so we’d chip in for pizza. He doesn’t think that it’s right to use LGBTO money for pizza.”
Cameron was fascinated by every new thing that he learned about Tonio. “Is he seeing anyone?”
“Free and single,” Luis said. “He’s into you, but let him make the first move.”
While Cameron’s brain was still processing that new information, and while his body was still doing some processing of its own, Tonio walked over to them. “You met Luis?”
“His name’s Cameron,” Luis said.
“That’s good to know,” Tonio said with a smile. “Ready to go?”
“He’s harmless,” Tonio said, braking as he approached a stoplight. Glancing into the rearview mirror, he confirmed that Cameron was still back there. Cameron. He wondered what Cameron’s last name was. He wondered why Cameron was in town, why Cameron was interested in the group.
“I told him you’re into him,” Luis said.
“I’m not into him, and you’re off the board,” Tonio said, hitting the gas.
“What is it with you?” Luis asked. “Diego’s been after you for years.”
“Diego is after everything with a dick,” Tonio said. “I don’t even think he discriminates on species.”
“Oh, that’s cold,” Luis said. “I don’t say those things about your friends.”
Tonio turned the corner and pulled into the driveway, parking the car. “Cameron’s just visiting. Be nice to him.”
“I’m nice to everyone,” Luis said. “When are you going to get him out of the rest of his clothes?”
“Looks like almost everybody’s already here,” Tonio said.
Being face-to-face with Tonio, after even the short break of the drive over, was like feeling a rainbow break across his skin. Maybe it was those sexy dark eyes. Maybe it was that warm smile. Maybe it was the promise of a new life. Maybe it was finding a new life and falling in love all in one day.
Cameron didn’t know who was in the house or how the rest of the evening would go or whether his fresh, grand plans would work out. He didn’t care. If everything kept going this well, that would be terrific. If everything fell apart, that would be okay. Just getting to meet Tonio made everything else worth it.
Tonio didn’t know, but he was getting used to it. He liked it. He stepped on Luis’s foot and Luis shut up.
“Do you have a dog?” Cameron asked.
“A dog?” Luis repeated, in disbelief. “Don’t let this guy into the house, Tonio.”
Tonio didn’t mind Cameron’s eccentricities or apparent non sequiturs. He was getting used to them. He liked them. “We have a fat little puppy,” he told Cameron. Maybe Cameron was afraid of dogs, or loved dogs, or had allergies, or was simply curious. “He’s lazy, he just wants to be petted all of the time.”
Cameron’s smile was like someone turning up the sun.
Apparently that had been the right answer. Tonio smiled back, stepping on Luis’s toes again to shut him up, hoping that Cameron didn’t know Spanish. “Let’s go in and I’ll introduce you to everybody.”
“This is Cameron,” Tonio announced to the house at large. “He’s visiting us tonight.” As everyone said hello, Cameron found himself coaxed against Tonio’s side, Tonio’s arm around his shoulders, their heads together. “That’s my sister Maria, our secretary. My brother Miguel, he’s our event organizer. That’s my brother Alejandro, and you know Luis, they’re board members. Maria’s husband Carlos, he’s our treasurer. Our cousin Jose, my vice-president and right-hand man. That’s Isaiah, our public relations man, and his partner, Nathan. That’s Robert, he’s on the board, and that’s Ted, he’s a member, he lives right down the street. That’s Beth, she’s a member, that’s Meg, she’s in charge of membership drives, that’s Meg’s partner Brooke, she helps Carlos, and that’s Diana, she’s on the board, she’s our new member rep.”
Immensely distracted by Tonio’s touch and nearness, Cameron tried to attach names to faces as Tonio pointed out people who wouldn’t stay still. “Is this everyone?”
“All of the officers and board members are here, so we can start the show,” Tonio said. The front door opened behind them just then, and Tonio slid his arm from around Cameron, turning.
Cameron turned, too, and found himself looking at five feet, ten inches of sex appeal. Every last inch pressed itself right up against Tonio in a far-too-sensual embrace for a casual hello.
“Cameron,” Tonio said, extricating himself, “this is Diego.”
“Hi,” Cameron said, trying not to feel threatened.
“Hey,” Diego said, giving him a suspicious once-over, apparently sizing up the competition. “You a new member?”
“Cameron’s just sitting in tonight,” Tonio said. “I think we’re ready to get started.” He looked past Cameron. “Jose, can you-”
“Hey! Time to get started!” Jose shouted to the rest of the house.
It took a few minutes, but everyone settled around the living room, some of them taking up spots on the floor. While Tonio got a notebook from Jose, Diana officially introduced herself to Cameron, and he accepted her invitation to sit beside her on the floor. As much as he wanted to sit beside Tonio, he realized that Tonio had business to conduct and might be hindered by his presence, especially if he gave in to temptation and began to touch inappropriately.
Those naturally pink cheeks made it seem like Cameron was in a constant state of sexual arousal, which made Tonio want to be the one turning him on. Cameron’s starched white shirt was open at the throat, and the sight of exposed skin made Tonio’s mouth water. Eye contact proved to be too powerful; Tonio tried instead to look at Cameron’s hands, at those bared forearms, at Cameron’s simple silver watch, at the fit of black pants over slender thighs, at the gentle curve of Cameron’s lips.
He wanted to crawl across the floor and kiss Cameron and…
Tonio swallowed, pretending to glance down at his notes, blinking to clear fantasy from his vision. He shouldn’t have brought Cameron home with him. If he’d left Cameron at the diner, he could have had an odd story to tell about the cute, eccentric guy he’d met. Now that Cameron was in his house, with his friends and family, he liked seeing Cameron among them. He wanted Cameron to stay.
The meeting had, first, given him ample opportunity to confirm that Tonio was gorgeous, sexy, hot, fascinating, confident, and amazing to watch.
It had also proven to him that Tonio was assertive, organized, motivated, respectful, forward-thinking, and a natural leader. Tonio was on top of everything, aware of all details while still delegating responsibilities. Professional, but friendly with everyone. Talking, listening, questioning, jotting down notes, Tonio led the meeting skillfully without being overbearing or dictatorial.
Cameron had found the perfect man.
As a nice addition, he definitely wanted to join the LGBTO. Tonio ran a terrific organization. They were clearly a strong presence in local politics; they had various strategies in place for bringing in new members and more funds; they were active and open-minded, aggressive and subtle in all of the right ways.
As the meeting broke up, Cameron got to his feet and helped up Diana, who introduced him to Meg and Brooke.
“He’s in the kitchen,” Miguel said, draping an arm over his shoulders. “Who is he, your new boyfriend?”
Tonio wished. “I don’t even know his last name,” he said, ducking out from under Miguel’s arm. He didn’t know anything about Cameron, except that they had to spend the rest of their lives together.
“The way you two were eyeing each other, I thought you knew him a lot better than that,” Miguel said, grinning and nudging him. “I thought maybe you had some of that Biblical knowledge. Some of that carnal-”
“We met at the diner,” Tonio said, frustrated but trying to sound calm. Nothing had happened between him and Cameron yet, and he didn’t want to indulge his brothers’ filthy minds. “He’s from Texas, we’ll probably never see him again.”
“Texas,” Miguel repeated. “What’s he doing here, business trip?”
“Not a business trip,” Tonio said. “I don’t know why he’s here.” He only knew that Cameron had to stay. But that was impossible. Someone with a life back in Texas wouldn’t uproot and move to small town Camville just because Tonio was attracted to him.
The doorbell rang. They had a standing weekly order for pizzas. “Go get that,” he told Miguel, moving in the direction of the kitchen.
In the doorway, when he had Cameron in sight and his body was warm from one glance at Cameron’s profile, Diego stepped right into his path.
This wasn’t his world. This wasn’t his life. What had he been thinking? That he could just find the perfect life waiting for him? What the hell was wrong with him, abandoning his job and driving off in search of his “purpose?” He had a life back home, a job, friends, responsibilities, commitments, obligations. He couldn’t run away. He wasn’t a kid. He wasn’t-
As Miguel carried pizza boxes into the kitchen, trailed by a line of hungry people, Cameron wanted to stay, and knew that he had to go. He wanted to be a part of this world, he craved this existence, everything that called to him was here. But he couldn’t latch onto Tonio like this, couldn’t insinuate himself into Tonio’s life. He should go back home, and build a new life there. If he tried to stay here, he’d try to force Tonio to be a part of his new reality, and that wasn’t fair to Tonio, who’d only wanted to serve him lunch.
He’d stay for the pizza, and soak up this time. And then, as people began to leave, he’d say good-bye, and drive home. Tomorrow, he’d show up for work, and plead his case, and maybe get to keep his job. He’d look around for a playhouse, or for an organization, and he’d get a dog.
“Let’s get some pizza before everyone else devours it,” Brooke said.
“I thought that Tonio told me that he had a dog,” Cameron said. He hadn’t seen or heard one.
“Sleepy,” she said with a smile of recognition. “If you don’t see him, he’s asleep. When he wakes up, he’ll be around, begging for attention. Tonio says that Sleepy is the house dog, but everyone else says that he’s Tonio’s.”
“Cameron, can I get you something to drink?” Meg asked, handing Brooke a cup.
“Whatever you’re having would be great, thanks,” Cameron said, instead of asking for his usual water.
“Cameron,” Tonio’s voice said softly right behind his ear. Cameron turned slowly, heart racing. He didn’t know how Tonio had managed to evade Diego’s clutches, but oh damn, Tonio looked way too hot from this close. “I’m going to run upstairs for a few minutes. Don’t go anywhere, okay?”
“Okay,” Cameron said breathlessly, captivated by sexy dark eyes, by the curves of Tonio’s mouth, by-
“Okay,” Tonio said, and squeezed his elbow, and left the kitchen.
Cameron’s heart went with him.
“He’ll be back,” Brooke said. “He just wants to shower and change. You know how it is wearing your work clothes all night.”
Shower? Cameron’s knees were weak. Naked? With slick soap and cascading water? Easing that clean, nude body into fresh clothes?
“I think we have another one,” Brooke said.
“Looks like it,” Meg said, and Cameron felt a cup being pressed into his hand.
“Another what?” he asked vaguely.
“I’ll be right down,” Tonio said, running his fingers through his hair.
“You’re taking so long, what are you doing up here?”
“Taking a shower and getting dressed, what does it look like?” Tonio asked, examining his reflection. He’d taken too long in the shower, he’d taken too long fingering his dick, he’d taken too long shaving, he’d taken too long deciding what to wear and agonizing over his blue T-shirt versus his black button-down. Half of him was panicked that Cameron would disappear while he was upstairs, and they’d never see each other again. Half of him wanted to look just right so that the rest of the night would go well. But why was he trying to impress someone who was about to disappear on him?
“You should get down there and check on your new boy,” Alejandro said. “He’s getting pretty cozy.”
“That’s good,” Tonio said, keeping his voice casual, pulling on his shirt. He wanted Cameron to get cozy. Cozy enough to come back. Cozy enough to stay.
“He’s holed up in a corner with Maria, Carlos, Jose, Meg, and Brooke,” Alejandro said. “He’s drinking Maria’s punch, and Sleepy’s in his lap like they’re going home together later.”
“Maria’s punch?” Tonio asked, facing his brother. Maria’s punch tasted like rotten pineapples. “What are they talking about?”
“I don’t know,” Alejandro said. “But you’d better get down there before they start talking about you.”
He was supposed to be here.
This was supposed to be his life.
He still didn’t know how Tonio fit into it. He knew how he wanted Tonio to fit into it, but he’d need Tonio’s cooperation for that. And lube.
As it turned out, Brooke, who helped Carlos with the LGBTO’s finances, had a changing work schedule and couldn’t commit the same amount of time to the organization as before. She’d been looking around for a replacement.
Cameron just happened to be the most qualified person she’d met.
According to Jose and Carlos, they would be more than happy to talk to Tonio about bringing Cameron in on a trial basis.
According to Maria, the Camville Playhouse could use another set of hands.
According to Carlos, there were numerous very nice job opportunities for accountants in Lenburg.
And, word had it, there was a house to rent two blocks over that would fit very well into Cameron’s price range.
While Meg, who volunteered at an animal shelter, assured Cameron that there were plenty of dogs available for adoption, Tonio walked down the stairs barefoot, in casual jeans and a blue T-shirt that subtly displayed each curve of muscle.
Tonio crossed the room. “Would you mind if I took Cameron away from you for a minute?” he asked. His words were for everyone else, but he only had eyes for one person.
Gazing right back, Cameron rose, aware that other people were speaking but deaf to their words. Setting aside the dog, he followed Tonio to the kitchen and out into the backyard.
No one else was there.
They were finally alone. Just the two of them.
Cameron was on the brink of creating his own happiness on his own terms. He wanted Tonio to be a part of that. He just didn’t know how to ask.
Tonio loved every unexpected sentence from Cameron’s mouth. “Thank you,” he said with a smile that probably revealed too much. “I didn’t cook them myself.”
“I’m sure that I came across as a little…strange this afternoon,” Cameron said.
“You seemed like someone who was figuring something out,” Tonio said. The back porch lights were off; he couldn’t see as well as he wanted to in the night’s darkness. He wanted to be able to stare at every tiny detail before Cameron walked away.
“I was,” Cameron said, and he sounded impressed by Tonio’s observation. “I think that I’ve been unhappy lately, but I want to change all of that.” He rubbed his hairline, searching for more words. Tonio wanted to rub there for him. What would it feel like, the smoothness of Cameron’s skin contrasting with the softness of Cameron’s hair? “I’ve made a lot of decisions today that aren’t choices I’d normally make.”
“Like Sprite without ice?” Tonio asked, wanting to stroke inside Cameron’s open collar.
“Yeah.” Cameron smiled at him, hand dropping. “Like Sprite without ice.”
Tonio dragged his mind away from touching and met Cameron’s eyes more directly. “Are you running away from something?”
“No,” Cameron said, and his expression went from happy to focused. “I’m running towards something.”
Tonio moved first, capturing Cameron’s mouth in a slow, lush kiss. Cameron opened for him, inviting him in, and as his tongue swept Cameron’s mouth, his hands pulled at Cameron’s shirt.
“Wait,” Cameron whispered, but his hands were busy pulling Tonio against his body and slipping into Tonio’s pockets.
Tonio tried to say, “We’ll talk about it later,” but all that came out was softly panted Spanish and a breathy, “Later,” as he pressed Cameron to the back of the house and ran his fingers through Cameron’s hair and groaned at the stiffening of his dick against Cameron’s arousal.
The way Cameron was getting harder and squeezing his ass and moaning around his tongue was making Tonio a little crazy, and when the buttons on Cameron’s shirt rebelled against his fingers, he growled in frustration and yanked, hard and sudden. Buttons spilled; cloth gave way, and Tonio jerked Cameron’s undershirt up, finding warm, deliciously smooth skin with eager hands.
His first instinct was to go down on his knees and kiss that skin, suck at it and make Cameron moan louder. But once he got down there, he’d go farther south, and they were outside, with neighbors right next door. He wanted Cameron, he had to do this before Cameron left, and he needed more from Cameron than could be given in public. “Come upstairs,” he said, hands molding themselves to Cameron’s body, his mouth taking kiss after kiss.
“Tonio,” Cameron said, his voice soft and rough with need, his hands keeping Tonio close. Undulating without seeming to be aware of it, rubbing groin to groin and dick to dick, he latched onto Tonio’s kiss, making urgent noises.
He was so hard, his body was ready, lust and passion pumping through him. The way Cameron ground against him made him grind back, rocking against Cameron as his hips begged for more complete motion. They had to - - oh, god, Cameron - - get upstairs, they had to reach the privacy of his bed before-
“This is interesting.”
Tonio froze at the same moment Cameron fell still against him. Slowly, he turned his head. His gaze landed on Luis’s grinning face; Cameron panted softly, hands slowly slipping away from Tonio’s body.
“Diego just stormed out looking mad about something, and I wondered what pissed him off,” Luis said. “I guess now I know.” His grin widened. “Congratulations.”
Ignoring Luis, Tonio turned back to Cameron, tipping his chin up with one finger, kissing his parted lips, gazing into his dazed eyes. “Come upstairs with me.”
Cameron’s words came out rushed and confessional. “I have a boyfriend.”
Tonio’s world tilted.
“I’ll leave you guys alone,” Luis said, and went back into the house.
“You have a boyfriend?” Tonio asked, his voice laden with anger and pain. “You-”
“I’m leaving him,” Cameron said. “I already have, he just doesn’t know it yet.” He didn’t let Tonio back up. “I’m moving here, to Camville. I’m going to get a job and get a house and get a dog and paint scenery and crunch LGBTO numbers and make love with you, if you’ll let me. I’m not moving here for you, I’m moving here for me, but you’re part of what’s here.”
“You’re what?” Tonio asked, looking stunned and sounding confused, taking a step back but touching Cameron’s face. Lean fingers drew uncertain, desiring lines down Cameron’s cheek.
“I’m moving here,” Cameron said. “I’m leaving Texas, I don’t want that life. I want this life. Here. In Camville, in my new house, with you and my new dog and my new job and my new purpose.”
“Your new purpose?” Tonio asked, and Cameron loved that Tonio had pounced on the most important phrase. “What’s your new purpose?” Tonio still looked confused, but he was also still caressing Cameron’s face.
“I’m figuring that out,” Cameron said, and proceeded to tell Tonio what he’d come up with.
Tonio listened to each word, then made Cameron explain details and history on a few points. As he did so, he trailed his fingers down Cameron’s neck and stroked Cameron’s collarbone, stroked the skin revealed by Cameron’s open shirt.
He could see why Cameron might be dissatisfied with monotonous days and a cheating boyfriend. He could see why Cameron might want to start over somewhere else, why Cameron would go off in search of deeper meaning.
The idea of Cameron moving to Oklahoma, to Camville specifically. Living mere blocks away, working in Lenburg, settling down and buying a dog. Volunteering at the playhouse and helping the LGBTO and joining him in his passion, in his cause. Tonio loved it, loved all of it.
It was a huge step, and a scary one. “You’re very brave,” Tonio said, stroking Cameron’s skin. “I’ll help you as much as I can, we all will.”
“If it doesn’t work out, I can try again, somewhere else,” Cameron said, cupping Tonio’s elbows, drawing Tonio against his body again. “But everything came together so perfectly, in this one day…”
Cameron’s nearness tempted Tonio, and for a long moment, his willpower wavered. But slowly, firmly, he stepped back, breaking physical contact. He wanted to be with Cameron, but, “You have a boyfriend.”
“I don’t,” Cameron said, reaching for Tonio again. “I broke up with him.”
“He doesn’t know that,” Tonio said, evading Cameron’s grasp. “It’s late. I think that you should stay here tonight, and go home in the morning to get ready for your move.”
“Stay here?” Cameron repeated, hope flickering.
“There’s plenty of room on the couch,” Tonio said.
He’d found a man with drive and passion and firmly embedded morals.
Which was why it was two in the morning and he was on the couch in the Alvarez brothers’ living room, sexually frustrated and thrilled at the world that had unfolded before him in under twenty-four hours. The night before, he’d spent two a.m. getting a handjob from his cheating boyfriend. Now, having skipped a day of work and disappeared without a trace, he listened to someone upstairs snore wildly, and smiled.
He loved his life. It had barely begun and already he loved it.
When Tonio crept down the stairs, Cameron sat up like he’d been waiting for this. He had. Tonio crossed the room and knelt down in front of him, meeting him in a slow, burning kiss.
“I can’t sleep,” Cameron said, kissing Tonio’s neck, running his hands over the warm, bare skin of Tonio’s chest, inhaling lingering traces of spicy cologne. “I’m too happy.”
“Miguel doesn’t always snore like that,” Tonio said, firm arms winding around Cameron’s neck. “I want you.”
“I want you, too,” Cameron whispered, sliding his hands down Tonio’s back and kissing under Tonio’s jaw. “I want to stay in this world. I want Camville.”
“Break up with him tomorrow,” Tonio said, and his rapid, intense breathing made Cameron’s eyes close. “Come back to me.”
Kissing Tonio’s neck and having Tonio’s half-naked body this close and feeling the desire radiating from Tonio’s flesh made Cameron hard, and he wanted to drag Tonio against that hardness, wanted to pull Tonio up onto his lap and, god, why were they both panting like this? “I won’t be able to get the house tomorrow,” god, Tonio’s body was so perfect, so slender yet muscular, “it’ll take me a few days to find the right job,” Tonio moaned as Cameron’s tongue flickered over the perfect spot on the side of his neck, “but I’ll come back as soon as I can,” Cameron’s body ached with need, “I’ll go home tomorrow and rent a truck and pack everything and drive here and find a motel and call you.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Tonio asked, digging his fingers into Cameron’s back.
The knowledge of Tonio’s fight for self-control made Cameron moan, made him suck at Tonio’s neck and rub his thumbs over Tonio’s tiny, hard nipples. “Your life is here. Stay. I’ll come back to you.” Now that he’d found this world, now that he’d discovered Tonio and this realm of existence, nothing could keep him away.
“I want to see your old life,” Tonio said, moaning, arching into his touch. “Oh, Cameron, please…”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Cameron said. They couldn’t discuss it now. He wasn’t even sure how he was still managing to form real words anymore. His dick was hard and his body was hot and every cell ached with need. “Go upstairs, go to bed.”
“I shouldn’t have come down here,” Tonio said, and he made sounds of suffering as Cameron kissed the other side of his neck and teased his nipples with eager, fascinated fingers.
Cameron shouldn’t have skipped work and ditched his life on a whim to drive to Oklahoma, but sometimes what shouldn’t occur happened anyway. “Good night, Tonio,” he whispered, and kissed Tonio’s hungry, passionate mouth.
“Seth called me five times yesterday,” Wade said. “He wants to come over and say good-bye before you go.”
“Seth and I already said good-bye,” Cameron said, piling plastic bowls into another carton, starting on the next shelf.
“Ouch!” Cameron heard fluent cursing from the next room, where Luis and Miguel were taking apart the bed.
“I don’t think you know how upset Seth is right now,” Wade said. “He misses you. He feels like shit about everything that went wrong.”
“I hope he gets over it,” Cameron said. “Can you hand me those cups?”
“Boy, you own too many clothes,” Alejandro said, walking through with boxes for the truck. “Having this many suits can’t be good for you.”
When Alejandro was gone, Wade asked, “Which one’s Antonio?”
“The suave and handsome one,” Tonio said, slipping in between Cameron and the counter, stealing a quick, deep kiss. “Luis wants to know if we can leave the bed here.”
“Only if he’s paying for the new one,” Cameron said.
Tonio kissed him again, then walked off. “Good news, Luis!”
Cameron smiled, taping the box and discreetly licking his lips.
“Cam… You’re going to come back, aren’t you?” Wade asked.
Cameron labeled this box and met Wade’s gaze. “I’ve found a good life. It’s not extravagant, but it’s my dream life, the life I’ve always wanted but didn’t have the balls to get. I won’t leave that for anything.” He smiled. “But you’re welcome to track down your own.”