An announcement sounds overhead, but the buzz of conversation in the airport drowns out most of the words. Not that I'm paying attention anyway. I'm looking for my best friend and former college roommate, Gideon Marshall. Gideon and I have been friends since I was a freshmen and he was a sophomore in college when we both shared a dorm room, late night pizza runs and a dream to become veterinarians after we graduated. We had dreams of opening a practice together, but in junior year I had met Oliver Blake, my boyfriend of the past seven and a half years, the man I actually had ran a practice with until recently—he was also the man who had broken my heart by cheating on me with our new intern, Tony Linford.
Since the vet clinic in Lawson, Idaho had actually belonged to Oliver's family I was the one who ended up having to quit. Now jobless, homeless and not really sure what I was going to do, I called up my good friend Gideon and he gave me not only a new place to live, but also a new source of income. He needed someone to run his no-kill animal shelter since the last manager had quit and he also needed more help around his vet clinic. It was a win-win for the both of us. Plus, he and his ex-boyfriend had just split as well, so Gideon had a large home that had too much space for just him and his roommate, Anthony.
“Rhodes!” I hear Gideon's voice behind me and turn to find him walking towards me with a giant cinnamon bun in one hand and a drink in the other. Of course, I think to myself with a smile. Gideon couldn't go an hour without food. Anywhere he went, he had to grab something to eat.
Gideon looks good. He had grown out his blond hair so it curled out from his ears and fell onto his forehead. His brown eyes are framed by dark lashes and topped with brown brows that didn't match the blond hair on his head. He's still in good shape, years of playing soccer in college had done him good. He smiles, showing off the dimple in his right cheek and the boyish charm that hides under the sharpness of his cheek bones.
“Marshall!” I yell back. We have been calling each other by our last names since the day we met.
Gideon still looks like he spends more time surfing or hanging out at frat parties than like a respected vet of a small town practice. He's wearing a tank plastered with dancing cacti, board shorts and flip-flops. It's the same wardrobe he would have worn in college (I'm pretty sure those are the board shorts he bought his junior year), he still acts the same too. As he saunters towards me, he sticks his tongue out and does the 'hang loose' sign at me which makes me laugh. He still claps people on the back when he gives them a hug. He had been the champion beer pong player at every party in college. He had joined the frat Sigma Phi Nu when he was a sophomore, and wanted me to pledge as well, so I did. He surfed whenever he got the chance, and he played almost every sport under the sun.
Gideon's parents are super rich and hate that Gideon likes dick as well as vagina. They expect him to marry some rich girl that lives down the street in Baltimore and run the family company with his father and brother, but as a giant 'fuck you' to his parents, Gideon moved to some small town in Washington state and opened a vet clinic.
I'm almost the opposite of Gideon. While Gideon was the golden boy, the man everyone thought was going to go on to do great things, maybe even play pro soccer—I look more like the rebel character in The Breakfast Club. I ride motorcycles, pierced anything I could, and I have tattoos on my left forearm, right calf and my chest. I was more lean then Gideon since I didn't play sports in high school or college, but I'm still in good shape. I had smoked under the bleachers in high school and smoked weed in the communal bathrooms in college. No one had thought I was going to go anywhere. I'm not as smart as my parents wanted me to be, but I made do in school. I passed all my classes and worked hard to be where I was as a vet. My parents are proud of me now, more so than they were in high school when I spent most of my days smoking, partying and falling asleep during class.
I changed everything about who I was and who I had become when I met Oliver.
Oliver had forced me to sell my motorcycle when we first moved in together after our undergrad programs were completed, then I had to quit smoking weed, then I had to change my style; no more leather jackets and worn jeans. I was to wear sweaters, ties, dress shirts and slacks. I had to take out my piercings and only wear clothes that covered my tattoos. I hated it. I had felt like I was suffocating.
Now I am free.
I had come off the plane wearing a leather jacket I had purchased at a vintage store before leaving Lawson, my favorite ripped jeans that I had found in the attic in a box Oliver had labeled 'Alex's shit' and a scuffed, nearly ripped pair of Chuck Taylor's, the same pair I have owned since my senior year of high school. My snake bites, septum ring, nostril studs and labret were put back in. My ears decked out in nearly every piercing known to man, I had everything from simple lobe piercings to an industrial to a 6mm dermal punch in my left ear.
“Shit, man, I'm so glad you're here,” Gideon says, taking one of my suitcases from the carousel. Gideon claps a hand on my back and then heads through the airport to the parking.
I follow behind him, dragging my other suitcase behind me.
Gideon leads me to his black Jeep and after loading my suitcases and laptop case into the back we were on our way. I take in the sights of Seattle, I have never been there before. The furthest I had been outside of Lawson is Idaho Falls, but before that I lived in Boston for college, and I grew up in a small ass town in Montana. Lawson is nearly two hours outside of Idaho Falls, and has a population of 5,000. Glensville was smaller than Lawson—way smaller, Gideon told me the population was only six-hundred, but I was grateful that it was in a completely different state than Oliver. Everyone in Lawson had known Oliver, and many had sided with him after the break up. I had lost most of my friends, lost my status as one of the town's veterinarians. Lost my home. He was the one that had cheated, and I was the one that got the shit end of the stick.
That's what it was like in Lawson. Oliver's family was one of the families that had founded the town back in the 1800's; he was the epitome of small town royalty, and I was just a punk kid whom Oliver had met in College and brought back into his world. I would always be an outsider in Lawson, but I'm hoping that won't be the case in Glensville.
We pull into a quaint town an hour or so after leaving the airport in Seattle. It began to drizzle as we drove through the small town. The town is made up of cute bungalows, duplexes and single family homes with a few large apartment complexes thrown in. There's an adorable square where most of the shops are centered. People are milling around the tiny square, darting into the shops out of the rain.
“I'm excited for you to meet Anthony. He's a really cool guy, just moved here from Philly.”
“He left Philly for this?” I ask, looking around the town. We drive past a school—the only school in Glensville according to Gideon.
Glensville isn't a shitty town, in fact it looked quaint, friendly. I've lived in both big cities and small towns and I can say I prefer a small town over the hustle and bustle of a large city, but not a lot of people liked small towns. Especially people from big cities, so why would Anthony leave Philadelphia for a town that was not even a quarter of the size?
Out of the corner of my eye I see Gideon shrug. “Just left, I guess. I think he was hurt or something.”
I nod, but don't offer anything else. I'm happy to see that Gideon has a whole life out here in Washington. New friends, a good job, a kick ass house—everything I have always wanted. Everything I had until I found Oliver in the back of the clinic going down on twenty-year-old Tony Linford in the supply closet.
Ugh! How could I have been so stupid? I had seen the signs. Why did I ignore them?
“Take the weekend to get settled in, and we'll start on Monday,” Gideon continues, pulling me from my thoughts.
I remain quiet, just nodding at whatever he says. Gideon's used to it. I have always been the quieter one out of the two of us, more reserved and in my own head. Plus, he hates silence and always finds a way to fill it so I don't have to talk so much. I had always been that way, even as a kid I read comics and obscure sci-fi novels rather than play with the other kids. I had one friend from second grade to the time I graduated high school, Lillian Mix. She was an oddball with bright blond hair and freckles with thick red glasses. The last I had heard she was married with two kids. For Halloween one year we both dressed up as Sienna March from our favorite 80's sci-fi movie, Diabolic Divas. Dressing up as Sienna March was probably my parents first inkling that I was gay. At least it should have been anyway.
Finally, we turn into the driveway of a gorgeous two story brick house complete with a gigantic tree in the front yard with a DIY swing hanging from one of its thick branches.
“Home, sweet, home,” Gideon comments, climbing out of the Jeep. “We're within walking distance to the clinic so you don't have to rush getting a car or anything.”
“Now I don't have to work out,” I joke. “I will not be joining you on your five in the morning jogs by the way. I had enough of that shit in college.”
“I don't even jog at five anymore.” Gideon pauses, swinging one of my bags over his shoulder. “I go at six now.”
I laugh and roll my eyes, bumping his shoulder with mine.
It feels good to be in the presence of my old friend. I didn't realize how much I had missed him until I had seen him in the airport. I look at him, the setting sun turning the ends of his hair into shimmering gold, the August heat makes his shirt stick to his body, and I'm reminded of the very brief friends-with-benefits stage we went through right after we met in college. We had realized we were better at being friends without the benefits. He had needs I couldn't fulfill and that was fine with me. I never judged him on it. People needed different things sexually.
“You checking me out?” Gideon asks, wagging his eyebrows.
“In your dreams.”
He snorts and leads me up the walk to the red painted door. It swings open before Gideon can reach for the knob. A man about our age is standing on the other side. He's wearing a button up but no tie, and navy blue slacks but no shoes. He looks like Gideon in a way, like a long lost cousin, but Gideon only has one cousin, and she lives in Santa Barbara. The man has blond hair and a generic boy-next-door face. He's good looking, but not at all my type. The one striking thing about him are his eyes, they are big and bright and the color of the navy. They're so striking you can see how blue they are from a few feet away.
“You must be Alex,” the man says, smiling, showing a row of perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth.
“And you must be Anthony.”
Anthony's smile grows bigger. “I'm glad you are here.”
The house is bigger than what I had imagined from the pictures Gideon had sent me via text and email. There are three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a room that Gideon and Anthony share as an office. The living room is large and opens into the kitchen. The couch looks comfy and well used; Gideon's like me, a huge movie buff, so a huge case of hundreds of DVDs and Blu-rays sits next to the TV. Although he doesn't share my love for B-list Sci-fi thrillers so the case is filled with mostly horror and action flicks. My room has a large queen sized bed, a desk and a dresser. I would have to share the bathroom with Anthony, but I didn't mind.
“Decorate it however you want,” Gideon says, leaning against the door frame of my new room. “You okay with going out to eat? We have a great barbeque place about a mile from here.”
“That sounds awesome.”
After throwing my three bags on the bed in the room, Gideon, Anthony and I head out to the Jeep. Anthony seems like a sweet guy, maybe a little sad. It was clear that something had happened to him in Philadelphia, and I was curious, but I also wasn't one to pry. I ride in silence, listening to Anthony and Gideon talk about some sports team or another.
“What do you do, Anthony?” I ask when their argument about who the best quarterback is comes to an end.
“I'm a divorce lawyer.”
I whistle through my teeth. “You probably have a ton of clients. The idea of marriage just isn't what it used to be.”
“That's the truth,” he mutters, tension rolling off of him in waves.
I drop the subject, fearing we were broaching a heavy topic for him.
“You're going to love Fred's,” Gideon says, changing the subject and defusing the tension in the jeep. Anthony smiles at him in appreciation. “They have this secret sauce that is literally to die for.”
We pull into the crowded parking lot of Fred's BBQ. The place is made of wood and surrounded by trees. The smell of smoking meat fills the air. Even though it's well before dinner time the joint is packed. Queen blares over the speakers inside the restaurant. My mouth immediately waters at the smell of cooking meat and mac and cheese. Waiters and waitresses flit around, serving food and smiles.
“Welcome to Fred's!” a guy in his late teens or early twenties calls as he passes by with a tray full of food. He's wearing a sparkly pink top under his Fred's BBQ apron. His cheeks shimmer with some kind of reflective make-up. “Hi, Gideon!”
“Hey, Bryan. Busy tonight?”
“Always!” He replies passing by us in a whirl of pink, sparkles and a bright smile, like he lives for this shit.
We wait in line behind a group of giggling twenty-somethings. One of the girls keeps looking behind her. Her eyes sweep my body with interest. I offer her a friendly smile, which causes her friends to erupt in a fit of shrill giddiness. I refrain from rolling my eyes. Girls are weird.
“Don't encourage the poor girl,” Gideon whispers.
“I'm just being polite.”
Gideon chuckles. “If only she knew you preferred dick over pussy.”
“You know I hate that word.”
I scowl. “The other word.”
That only makes Gideon laugh harder. “Don't be such a prude.”
Suddenly, I feel a zapping at my skin, like the way the air feels right before a thunderstorm when the sky is full of electricity. Something pulls my gaze to the man behind the register. His dark, almost black eyes were burrowing into me. His dark hair curls away from his collar. He's easiestly one of the tallest, broadest men I have ever seen. A shiver goes through me. I've always had a thing for big, broad, rugged guys who look like they eat a bowl of nails for breakfast.
Holy Jesus. Fuck, he's hot.
“What can I get you guys?” he says once the laughing girls walk away and we are at the counter. His voice is deep and rumbly, like rolling thunder. “Special is a rack of ribs, coleslaw, mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes for $12.99.”
His eyes never leave mine. He smiles which sends another shiver down my spine.
“That sounds good,” I reply. My mouth feels dry even though I feel like I am definitely drooling.
“You're new in town.”
I can feel Gideon and Anthony looking at me, but I don't acknowledge them. I can't look away from the big man even if I tried.
“Yeah.” I swallow. “I'm Alex Rhodes.”
The man's lips quirk at one corner, his smile going lopsided and adorable. “Declan Jones.”
“You planning on taking our order too, Dec?” Gideon says, tapping his fingers against the wooden counter. “I'm hungry.”
“You're always hungry.” Declan's dark eyes flick to Gideon's. “What you want?”
I drown out Anthony and Gideon's orders. I can feel Declan's eyes flick back to my face, but I can't look at him. I can't feel attraction to someone. Not so soon after everything that had happened with Oliver. I need to focus on work and getting settled into a new town.
Yeah, easier said than done, especially with the way Declan Jones is staring at me like he wants to devour me, and my whole body is buzzing at the attention.