To celebrate, here are the first three chapters! Enjoy!
Gabe Henson picked at the label on his bottle of Samuel Adams lager, more interested in getting the square of paper off in one piece than in drinking the mostly full beer. The club’s pulsing music seemed far away, not penetrating like it usually was. He ignored the throng of good-looking dancers behind him and shut down the occasional attempt by an unfamiliar face at buying him a drink. The regulars knew him, and they knew when to leave him the hell alone.
Like right now.
He hadn’t come out to Big Dick’s to find a hookup. His boss preferred his models not to have sex for a few days leading up to a scene, and Gabe had one tomorrow. He only was at Big Dick’s, surrounded by other gay men, so he wasn’t sitting at home with his mother, worrying about the upcoming scene.
And yet that particular anxiety had taken a backseat to another incident less than an hour old. He couldn’t scrub his memory of the image of the frightened, golden-haired boy who’d cowered in a corner of the break room, completely unaware of anything except the name of a friend who’d know how to help him. Although “boy” wasn’t very kind. He was at least twenty-one if he’d gotten inside. Bear hadn’t let a fake ID slip past him since the day the bar opened.
The name didn’t suit. It conjured up images of a long-haired Brad Pitt riding horses and seducing Julia Ormond. The Tristan from tonight reminded him more of Alex Pettyfer, minus at least fifteen pounds and with shaggier, slightly blonder hair. Not to mention a healthy dose of fear in his eyes. Eyes haunted by something that was none of Gabe’s business, but had caused Tristan short-term memory loss, according to the friend.
Gabe couldn’t imagine living with such a debilitating condition. What sort of desperation had sent Tristan into the bar alone, knowing sooner or later he’d forget where he was and why?
And why the hell can’t I stop thinking about him?
He’d extended an offer of free drinks to both Tristan and the friend—Joel? No, Noel—but he doubted they’d take him up on it.
“What’s up, bub?” Pax asked while he scooped ice into a shaker. “Who pissed in your shoe?”
“Fuck off,” Gabe retorted without anger. Pax had been bartending at Big Dick’s for over four years, and they’d always gotten along, despite Pax’s mystifying habit of changing his hair color once a month. Last month he’d gone full-on skunk black and white. This month it was cobalt blue.
Pax snickered over a bottle of tequila. “Someone’s going through a dry spell.”
“I don’t need details of your personal life, thanks.”
“Oh, bub, I didn’t mean me.”
Gabe rolled his eyes. He wasn’t going through a dry spell—exactly. He’d been having pretty regular sex for the last eighteen months. It just wasn’t the kind of sex he wanted to be having—the real, nonporn kind. Even his very occasional hookup didn’t count, because he felt as disconnected from his partner afterward as he did when he left a scene.
Not that he disliked or regretted his job. He liked sex. He liked having sex, and getting paid for it was a bonus. Even porn sex could have its own levels of intimacy. He was best friends with one of the guys he regularly did scenes with. But at the end of the day, that intimacy wasn’t real. It didn’t keep him warm at night. It didn’t go out for coffee with him after a movie. It didn’t turn into an actual, trusting relationship.
And maybe that was the point.
“There’s a hot blond number at the other end of the bar,” Pax said while he shook his drink. “Don’t think he’s a regular, if you’re looking for fresh meat.”
“I’m not looking tonight, thanks.” Gabe pried another few inches of the damp label off the glass bottle. Nearly done.
“If you say so.”
Pax moved off to pour his drinks, replaced almost right away by Gabe’s dad. The white sequined vest cast a sparkly reflection all over the bar, and Gabe tried not to squint too much. He loved that his adopted dad, Richard Brightman, was comfortable enough in his sexuality and with his looks to wear something as hideous as Richard Simmons-inspired sequins, but that didn’t stop Gabe from having fantasies of burning them all in a bonfire.
“What’s got you tied up in knots, kiddo?” Dad asked.
Lying to him was harder than lying to Pax. “Thinking about that Tristan guy.”
“Yeah, that boy has got himself a case of real bad luck. At least he’s got a friend to look out for him.”
“Right.” Another bit of the label came away. Then another. Aware of eyes on him, Gabe looked up. Dad hadn’t moved or redirected his attention. “What?”
Irritation prickled his scalp. “Don’t what? It’s not against the law to peel beer labels.”
“That isn’t what I mean, and you know it. Leave this Tristan kid be, he’s not your problem.”
“I am not making him my problem.”
Dad leaned in so he could lower his voice. Keep family shit private and all that. “You hanging out here with that look on your face means you’re thinking about him. You want to fix him, don’t you?”
“I don’t even know him.”
“Yeah, well, I know you, Gabriel.”
“Meaning you can’t fix your mother, so you keep looking for other people you can fix.”
Gabe’s hand jerked, tearing the label off and leaving the last corner. Angry now, he wadded up the ruined label and tossed it onto the bar top. “I do not want a lecture about Debbie, okay? Leave it.”
Dad raised both hands in mock surrender. “I don’t want to lecture you. You’ve listened to all of my lectures, kiddo. I just wish you heard me sometimes, is all. We both do.”
“We” included Richard’s partner and Gabe’s bio dad Bernard “Bear” Henson. He’d been Bear all of Gabe’s life, and he always would be, even though technically he should be “Dad”. Dad had as much history with Gabe’s mother Debbie as Bear did, and they both understood the burden Gabe continued to bear. Gabe couldn’t give up on her. She didn’t have anyone else.
“I do hear you, Dad. I hear you both when you talk, and then I make my own decisions. Isn’t that how you guys raised me? To think for myself?”
Dad let out a frustrated grunt. “You’re a pain in the ass, you know that?”
“You raised me that way too.”
He grinned. “Damn right, I did. Now are you going to drink that beer or let it go flat?”
“It’s probably already flat, but I get the point.”
“Good. It’s Friday. Actually, it’s Saturday but let’s not get technical. Go have fun.”
Gabe spun his stool around so he could watch the dancing bodies while he sipped his warm, slightly flat beer. He really shouldn’t be indulging the night before a shoot. Beer didn’t make him bloat up the way it used to, especially if he stuck to one, but he had to look his very best on camera, no exceptions.
The beer was more of a prop than anything else. The last time he indulged a little bit, he’d let the person he was there with drink himself into a blackout. Shane had seemed like a decent guy on a run of bad luck, desperate to let loose a little, and he had. The demons Gabe had seen in Shane’s drunk eyes were the only reason Gabe had decided to forgive him for being an asshole about waking up in Gabe’s bed. So hungover he’d practically accused Gabe of sleeping with him and lying about it.
That had pissed Gabe the fuck off. Maybe they’d fucked twice on camera for a payday, but Shane—or Colby, his stage name—didn’t fucking know him. He had no right to judge Gabe. Gabe didn’t need to get a guy drunk off his face in order to get laid, and he hadn’t been wasted with a hookup in more than two years. He’d learned his lesson.
And Shane/Colby could stay the fuck out of his life.
So why the hell had Gabe agreed to bottom for him tomorrow?
The usual reason he took risks: money. They’d get a lot of downloads for a badass top like “Tony” finally taking one up the ass.
He’d been stretching all week with his fingers and a plug, but damn if he wasn’t still nervous as hell. The only time in his life that he’d ever bottomed had been a painful disaster—probably not unusual for two drunk and inexperienced fifteen-year-olds.
A mop of shaggy golden-brown hair caught his attention, far out on the dance floor. Gabe sat up straighter, straining to catch the man’s face, pulse jumping. Surely it couldn’t be—no. The face was all wrong. Chiseled and tanned.
You’re an idiot. Tristan isn’t coming back, and he’s definitely not doing it tonight.
Gabe checked his watch. After two in the morning. Last call was at two forty-five anyway, and he had to be up early for a ten o’clock call time. As much as he preferred the chaotic peace of Big Dick’s, it was past time to go home.
The unlocked front door didn’t surprise him anymore, but it had instilled a new instinct to enter his home slowly and carefully. Check around for open cabinets or upturned couch cushions. New damage that wasn’t caused by a drunken rage and might indicate an intruder. Debbie didn’t remember the little things like locking the front door and flushing the toilet.
He prayed for the day when she forgot how to walk to the nearest state store.
The front room didn’t appear much different than when he’d left eight hours ago. A pile of unfolded laundry on the couch. Pizza boxes on the coffee table already overflowing with Debbie’s magazine subscriptions. The familiar odors of cigarette smoke and sour wine mixed with something greasy and old. He locked the front door, then followed the smell into the kitchen. Half a dozen white takeout boxes littered the kitchen table, some of their contents sprawled on the old metal table. A few black flies buzzed around the mess.
“Fucking fantastic,” Gabe said to the ceiling. Her room was overhead, but she’d probably drunk enough to sleep until noon the next day. She always ordered lo mein when she made a conscious choice to try for a blackout. Something had upset her tonight, and he’d hear all about it when he got home from his scene tomorrow.
The trash can was overflowing. He pulled that bag out and tied it off. Shoved the Chinese cartons into another bag, along with the box of red wine on the counter. It was half-full, and he’d catch hell tomorrow, but he didn’t care. Tonight he seriously didn’t fucking care. He hauled the trash bags out the back door and stuffed them into the cans by the steps. Then he spent ten minutes tracking and smashing the black flies with a plastic swatter.
He fucking hated flies.
After a quick blast of air freshener, he turned off the lights and went upstairs. Debbie’s room was the first door, and it was wide open. He peeked inside because the bedside lamp was on. The bed was messy, the sheets all over the floor, but no Debbie.
Irritation overrode concern. It was late, he was exhausted, and he had to deal with her wherever she’d passed out for the night.
His room was out of the question. He kept the door locked when he wasn’t home—not only so she didn’t unearth his porn stash and sear her eyeballs, but also because he simply didn’t trust her. He didn’t trust her not to steal the Burberry watch he indulged in after his first scene and hock it for booze money. He didn’t trust her around any of his things, so he kept them locked up when he wasn’t home.
At the end of the hall, the bathroom door was ajar. He flipped on the light. Debbie was asleep on the bathroom floor, wrapped up in her yellow robe. He dropped the toilet lid with his foot, then flushed the evidence of her dinner and drinking. She hadn’t vomited on the floor or herself—good luck for which he was insanely grateful.
As much as he wanted to leave her there, he needed to shower in the morning, and that wasn’t happening with his mother passed out on the linoleum. In these moments, Gabe thanked the universe that he’d gotten his build from his father. All six foot two and 210 of him could pick up five foot three, buck-nothing Debbie with little fuss or stress.
The woman couldn’t eat six cartons of noodles in a week. Such a waste of money.
She didn’t stir during the short walk to her room, or when he put her down. The sheets took a minute to get in order. He checked that there was a trash can on both sides of the bed, turned off the lamp and shut the door.
Business as usual in Debbie Harper’s house.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Bear gave him a sad smile and said, It’s not your job, Gabriel. It’s not your job.
Gabe didn’t disagree. He also didn’t know how to quit.
What else did he have to do with his life if not take care of his alcoholic mother?
He had to give Colby credit for being as gentle as possible. Agreeing to bottom for the first time since he was fifteen had been an agonizing decision for Gabe, but the payday for first bottom during a three-way was his deciding factor. Chet even had mercy on him by allowing him to pick who topped him. Even though Gabe was good friends with his other scene partner Jon “Boomer” Buchanan, Boomer was sometimes a clumsy top.
Colby—he still had a hard time referring to him by his real name while working—was a decent guy who did porn like someone was holding a gun to his head. His story intrigued Gabe, but he’d never asked. Today had been Colby’s last shoot, anyway, so it didn’t matter. If Colby/Shane came to work at Big Dick’s as a dancer, then Gabe would make an effort.
Gabe had prepped for a long time in the shower that morning. Colby did quite a lot of manual prepping on-screen, and Boomer had rimmed him for a while, which had felt fantastic. The actual penetration had hurt, but not unbearably so, and Gabe managed to come. Chet was happy with the footage, so Gabe chalked it up as a win and escaped to the upstairs shower to clean up.
Jon would call him later to make sure he was okay with how everything went, because he was a good guy like that. They regularly worked out together, and even though they’d filmed more than half a dozen scenes, there was zero romantic anything between them. And that worked for Gabe. He liked having a friend who listened to his crazy family problems, didn’t judge and didn’t expect sex in return for his time and attention.
After a quick shower to wash away the day’s sweat and bodily fluids, he slipped into a pair of running shorts and a T-shirt from his gym bag. His phone flashed at him. Six missed calls, all from Debbie. No messages. Gabe glared at his cell phone, wanting his sudden flash of irritation to erase every single call record. When it didn’t, he used his finger.
Chet was waiting for him by the set house’s front door with a check in hand. “Excellent work today, my boy, very good film. Here’s the advance you asked for.”
Gabe hesitated in taking the check. Chet was an anomaly in the porn industry because he paid his models one of two ways. First was cash upfront, no royalties, which was industry standard and the get-money-fast option that people like Colby usually took. Gabe was a royalties guy, which usually meant no money upfront, but he earned a decent percent back on all downloads. Debbie’s latest stunt with the unsecured loan had made Gabe stoop to asking Chet for an advance against today’s video.
“I appreciate it, Chet.” Gabe tucked the slip of paper into his gym bag.
“If things are getting tight, I can fit you in more than twice a month.”
“I’ll think about it.” He still received regular monthly payments from his library of past scenes, but padding his collection might move that decimal point over one more place. “Call me when you need me again.”
“Take it easy, Tony.”
Gabe took in a deep breath as he left the house, and exhaled long and slow on the walk to his car. It was a ritual he used to shed himself of Tony, the guy who walked into that set and did his job, fucking like a champ and always with a smile. Sure, Gabe enjoyed himself. Regular sex without any of the baggage, and always, always safe. All of the models were tested for STDs regularly, and nobody fucked without a rubber at Mean Green Boys.
Two years ago, Gabe had contracted a pretty gross case of oral gonorrhea from a hookup he’d blown and then fucked. Despite Richard’s status, the incident had finally wised Gabe up to the dangers of casual sex, and he’d gone without for a while. He met Jon at the gym one afternoon, and after their paths crossed several times in one month, they started regularly working out together. Gabe had enjoyed the friendship, and he’d learned Jon was fastidious about avoiding infection.
One day after showering together, Jon had joked about Gabe “being in porn with a cock like that”. Gabe had laughed it off, even after Jon went on about the benefits of good, regular sex with very little risk. A few days later, Gabe got a call about doing a modeling interview with Chet Green. It went well, Chet threw dollar signs at him, and that was that. Signing on with Mean Green Boys had been a bit of a no-brainer—plus he needed the money that he couldn’t get as a career waiter.
His drive from the residential home in Camp Hill, across the Susquehanna on the Capital Beltway, and then north to his place on Harris Street took about twenty minutes. He tried to ignore traffic and the other drivers, tried to ignore whatever his mother wanted so badly that she’d called him six times without leaving messages. He rolled down the windows and concentrated on the hot July air and the humid, oily odor of the city.
He’d worked up a good sweat by the time he parked in front of the aging blue house. The yard needed to be tended. He put that on this afternoon’s mental to-do list. Physical exertion would help him forget the faint discomfort in his ass.
Something inside the house shattered before he could slide his key into the lock. The knob turned, which told him she’d been out at least once since he’d left for the shoot, because he always locked the door behind him. They had a basement full of old QVC packages from before he’d wrangled all of Debbie’s credit cards away, and they didn’t live on the best side of town.
He stepped into chaos. The complete opposite of the relative order from the night before. Cushions were off the sofa, magazines littered the floor. A dining chair was on its side. Movies and books were scattered across the carpet near the television. From the door, he couldn’t see the source of the shattering sound.
Debbie stormed out of the downstairs bathroom, her robe fluttering like a cape, curly red hair wrapped around her head like a frizzy shower cap. She stabbed a finger in the air as she sailed toward him like a snorting bull. “Where is it? Where did you put it?”
Gabe held up his palms and took a step to the side. “Where did I put what?”
“My wedding ring! You took it off while I was sleeping, and you hid it somewhere. Where is it?” Wine-soured breath puffed in his face. He had nearly a foot of height on his mother, but she still somehow managed to seem bigger than him. More domineering, just like when he was a kid and she knocked him around.
“I didn’t take your ring,” Gabe said. “You hocked it when I was thirteen, and you accused me of stealing it then just like you’re doing now.”
“I had the ring last night.”
He despised these mornings. Hangover-inspired rants about events from long ago, usually something that she’d decided was Gabe’s fault. The wedding ring had gone missing more than ten years ago after a particularly nasty fight between Debbie and Bear, and she’d blamed them both for taking it. Bear had eventually tracked the ring down to a local pawn shop, whose owner swore Debbie sold it to him herself.
One of the fun side effects of excessive alcohol abuse was memory loss.
“You haven’t had the ring for ten years,” Gabe said. “All that happened last night was me picking you up off the bathroom floor and putting your drunk ass to bed.”
Her hand snapped out, quick as always, and cracked hot across his cheek. His head didn’t move because she didn’t have that kind of strength anymore, but the slap hurt. She tried again, and he caught her wrist, his temper flaring. He squeezed until she whined, and then he let go.
Her big green eyes filled with tears. Her chin trembled. On a long wail, she fled the living room. Her footsteps thundered upstairs, ending with the slam of her bedroom door.
Gabe rubbed his face where his cheek still stung. Then he started cleaning up her mess.
Big Dick’s. Big Dick’s. Big Dick’s. Big dicks. Big dicks. Big—why I am I thinking about big dicks?
Tristan Lavelle blinked out the windshield at the scenery going by, somehow both familiar and new. He wasn’t driving, which was a good thing. He hadn’t driven a car in a long time. Since the accident. The accident was why he couldn’t remember why he’d been thinking about…something. Dicks?
Except it hadn’t been an accident. It was simply easier and less rage-inducing to think of it as an accident instead of what it had been. Or what he’d been told it had been, since he didn’t remember that, either.
Noel was driving. Noel was his best friend in the world, and they hung out on a regular basis even though they didn’t live together anymore. College was over. He and Noel weren’t roommates with Billy and Chris, but they visited sometimes too. At least he was pretty sure they did.
He studied Noel’s profile, hoping something hit him. A familiarity with the situation, or even with what he was wearing. His short-term memory was pretty much nonexistent but he knew he had moments of familiarity. Mostly with people, now with a few places. They happened a lot with Noel, and a lot in…that place he lived that wasn’t with Noel and Billy and Chris.
Benfield. Yes. He knew that. Mostly old people. Not many like him.
Noel’s clothes struck him as odd. Noel was a police officer, and he wasn’t wearing his uniform. When he came to visit, Tristan couldn’t remember but he was pretty sure he didn’t wear skin-tight black jeans and a dark green sleeveless tee. Party clothes.
Tristan glanced down at this own attire. Dark blue jeans. Not really tight, but then again none of his clothes really fit right. His black tee said “Kiss Me, I’m Cute”. Billy had given him that shirt for his nineteenth birthday.
Nighttime. Party clothes. They were going out.
His notebook was open in his lap. Tristan didn’t want to refer to it yet. He wanted to try and get this on his own without the copious notes he’d probably taken. His entire life since the accident was chronicled in a never-ending series of spiral notebooks. Notebooks and sticky notes all over his bedroom walls. Calendars and reminders on his laptop to do everything from take his meds to eat breakfast.
I’m completely broken, but everyone keeps trying to fix me.
Especially Noel. Noel had been there that night. Noel had been hurt too. Tristan’s family had written him off for being gay, but Noel had always been there.
“Can you turn the air up a little, babe? It’s hot back here.”
Tristan flinched at a voice both unfamiliar and totally déjà vu. He and Noel weren’t alone. A lot of the times recently they weren’t alone because Noel was seeing someone.
Think. Think. Think. I know this.
Noel fiddled with the air conditioning buttons on the car’s dash. “Better?”
Noel turned off the highway and into the brightly lit city. Harrisburg. They’d gone to college here. He knew the city, and he loved coming to visit. He didn’t need memories of trips to know in his heart he loved this city. The museums and the river and City Island and everything about it.
He glanced at the person sitting behind Noel. Dark hair and eyes. Super cute. Boyfriend. Tristan had been studying certain portions of his notebooks, trying to absorb details of this guy. Name. Occupation. Family. So many little things his damaged brain couldn’t record. Specific details lost forever, unless inked onto paper.
He did know the man, though. He felt that familiarity in his heart, not with his mind. Tristan also knew something terrible had happened to him recently.
Don’t ask. Read the notebook.
Aug.8—Going to Big Dick’s with Noel and Shane. Late birthday celebration. Missed birthday last week because Shane’s brother died. Be sensitive tonight. Shane. Big Dick’s. Birthday.
He’d never met Shane’s brother—even without checking his older notebooks, Tristan felt the truth of that in his heart. But Tristan’s own brother had died in high school, and he knew some of that pain. His wasn’t the same as Shane’s. No one’s loss was ever the same. Everyone grieved differently. He was glad that Shane had Noel.
“I said I’m sorry, right?” Tristan asked before common sense could censor the words.
Shane stared at him, eyebrows knitted together. “For what?”
“Your brother. I can’t remember his name, and I can’t remember if I’ve seen you since the funeral, and if I didn’t say it, then I’m really sorry for your loss.” The word vomit made him feel idiotic, and like maybe he had said that all before.
If he had, Shane didn’t mention it. He smiled, but his eyes stayed sad. “Thanks, Tristan.”
“I wish I’d met him.”
“Everyone liked him, so I’m sure you would have too.”
Something in Shane’s tone made Tristan drop the conversation. They were going out to Big Dick’s for Tristan’s birthday. Happy thoughts only. And Shane probably didn’t need the reminder. He lived with the pain every day. For a few hours tonight, he needed to forget.
Forget. Ha ha.
Tristan focused on the nighttime city streets, catching the occasional glimpse of something he knew from before. An exit sign. A restaurant. A busy intersection. His focus slipped, and he glanced at the notebook entry for a reminder.
He’d been twenty when the accident happened, so he’d never been to Big Dick’s before. Rumor was the bouncer was an expert at catching fake IDs, so he and Noel had never bothered trying. And he didn’t feel like flipping back through hundreds of pages of handwritten text to find his answer. “Have I been to Big Dick’s before?” he asked Noel.
“Once,” Noel replied. He squirmed, uncomfortable with the question.
That made Tristan nervous. “What happened?”
“About two months ago, you decided you wanted to go to Big Dick’s on your own, to prove to yourself that you could.”
Tristan dropped his forehead into his palm. He was impulsive on the best of days. His memory problems only exacerbated the stress those impulses put his friends through. “I freaked out, didn’t I?”
“A little bit. You lost your notebook, and you didn’t know anyone. The owner called me, and I drove out to pick you up. Nothing happened to you, Tris.”
I bet I wanted to get laid.
Tristan didn’t need to check his notes to know he hadn’t had sex since before the accident. Three years was a long damned dry spell. Not that he could remember the dry spell, exactly. He sensed the passage of time, of course. He could look at Noel and the ways he’d changed and know it was way past college, only it would take a while to remember exactly how long past.
Somehow he innately knew three years. Déjà vu sense at work?
So yeah, dry spell. Then again, who’d want to have sex with a guy who’d probably forget what they were doing halfway through and freak the hell out on him? No one.
At least I can dance for a while without forgetting. And Noel will be there. I’ll be safe.
Noel was his touchstone. No notebook needed to know that. Or to know his parents weren’t around. Noel had been his one constant through everything. Tristan wouldn’t be able to function without him.
“I must have felt terrible for dragging you all the way to Harrisburg in the middle of the night,” Tristan said. “You don’t live there anymore.”
Noel nodded, his cheeks pinking up like they did when he was remembering something he didn’t like. “You did feel terrible. But I didn’t mind.”
“Yeah, right. You shouldn’t have to babysit me. And I shouldn’t have gone out alone.” Tristan considered flipping back through his notebook to see if that night was in this one. To figure out his mindset. Except he knew what it was, because he felt like that most of the time.
Lonely. Horny. Scared.
Sick and tired of his broken brain. Desperate to be whole again.
All of the above. All the time.
“If I make a scene tonight, I am so sorry ahead of time.”
Noel squeezed his knee. “I called the owners last night. They remembered you and they know we’re coming. Their employees know.”
Humiliation flamed his face. “Shit, Noel, really?”
“I didn’t do it to embarrass you. I did it to keep you safe. It’s actually a good thing, other people knowing about your disability.”
Dark eyes flashed in his mind. They didn’t belong to anyone in particular. He saw them occasionally and for no good reason. Kind, dark eyes. A warm smile.
“Have I made any new friends lately?” Tristan asked.
“Friends? No.” Noel took an exit into another part of the city. “I mean, you’ve been meeting new people when we go out places. You’ve met some people in Stratton.”
Noel parked in a pay-by-the-hour garage instead of on the street. Tristan took another look at his notebook for additional clarification, then used a marker to write Noel, Shane, dancing on the backs of both hands. He’d look kind of silly but it would help.
The late hour didn’t diminish the sweltering August heat, and Tristan worked up a good sweat walking. Shane and Noel both looked crazy sexy in their club clothes, and even sexier walking side by side. He was happy for Noel. Happy his best friend was in love and enjoying himself.
He was also stupidly, insanely jealous.
He stuck close with his stupid, insane jealousy because the streets were teeming with people of all ages, heading into and out of the different restaurants and clubs. They turned down a quieter side street that was more like an alley. Halfway down the block a few guys hung out against a stone wall, most of them smoking cigarettes. An industrial door with no sign or markings was being guarded by a big, burly bear of a man in a black leather vest.
“Hey, Officer Carlson,” the bouncer said. He had a deep voice to match his broad body. “Nice to see you again.”
“Hi, Mr. Henson,” Noel said.
“Bear, son. Everyone calls me Bear.”
“Right. This is my friend Tristan Lavelle.”
“A right pleasure.”
Tristan shook Bear’s hand, surprised by the gentle grip. “Hi.” He glanced at Shane, who didn’t seem at all annoyed at being left out. “Um, that’s Shane. Noel’s boyfriend.”
Bear grinned. “Yeah, I know that one all right.”
“You do?” He reached for a notebook he didn’t have, then looked at Noel for answers.
“Shane dances here once a week,” Noel said. “He got the job through Bear’s son Gabe.”
“Oh.” He didn’t bother asking if he’d already been told that. Probably. Every single piece of information that was mildly important to his life had been repeated to him at least, oh, eighteen times. Minimum.
“Enjoy yourselves, boys,” Bear said. “First drinks are on the house.”
“Thank you,” Tristan replied.
Noel pulled the door, and what had been a distant bass became an impressive thumpa-thumpa in Tristan’s chest. The interior of the club was wide and deep, with a high ceiling decorated in strands of red and blue lights. Strobes and other lighting flashed around the dance floor, which seemed to make up most of the floor space. A small U-shaped bar stood to the right. In the rear were what looked like raised platforms. Two hot guys in red short-shorts were gyrating together on one of them.
This is the kind of dancing Shane does? Shit.
He was probably twenty kinds of hot up there.
Someone jostled past them, reminding Tristan to keep moving forward. Noel was hustling them straight for the bar. Tristan couldn’t drink alcohol because of his antidepressants and anxiety medications, and Noel was driving so the only person able to drink much was Shane.
Not that Tristan was going to mourn his dry night. Men. Everywhere around him, a sea of hot men. All kinds of eye candy. Every age, height, weight, shape and body hair amount. He observed and mentally drooled over the flesh on display. The air smelled of liquor and sweat and sex, and good Lord he was starting to get lightheaded from it all.
Noel nudged them closer to the bar. A middle-aged man with gray hair and a pink sequined vest gave them all a big, toothy smile. “Noel and friends,” he said. “Richard Brightman, pleased to officially meet you, Tristan.”
“Hello,” Tristan said. Officially meet you implied they’d interacted before, but the man’s name meant nothing to him.
“I’m Bear’s husband. We own the place.”
“Oh. It’s a great place. I’m pretty sure this is my first time. I like it.”
Okay that was wrong. When was I here before?
“So what are we drinking tonight?” Richard asked. “First round on the house. Samuel Adams for you, Shane?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Shane replied.
Richard knows because Shane works here.
“I’ll have a vodka tonic,” Noel said. “Tris?”
“Virgin margarita,” Tristan said. He loved margaritas, and while a virgin wasn’t as good as one with Patrón, he couldn’t mix with his meds.
“Coming up,” Richard said.
The music changed to a faster, sharper beat. Tristan’s hips rolled in tiny motions, instinct bringing out his love of club dancing. Of getting into it with another dude, all writhing bodies and gyrating hips. Arms and legs. Sweat and heavy breathing.
Wonderful arousal stirred in his gut, heating his blood already. He might not be getting laid tonight, but damn it, he was going to have some fun.
“Hey, you guys made it,” said a sexy, sultry voice.
Tristan glanced over his shoulder to see who the voice had spoken to, only to find himself staring into a pair of kind, dark eyes. Kind, dark eyes belonging to a stunningly handsome face. Black hair. Tan skin. Tall and well-built. A walking wet dream who was smiling like they were old friends.
Holy fucking hell, he’s gorgeous.
“Hey, Gabe,” Shane said.
Those kind, dark eyes never broke from his, and Tristan couldn’t look away. Gabe was a stranger, and yet somehow familiar.
His eyes. The eyes I see. We’ve met.
“We’ve met,” Tristan said before he could think twice.
Gabe’s eyebrows twitched. “Yes, we have. Do you remember that?”
“I remember your eyes.”
“You remember my eyes?” He didn’t sound surprised or weirded out by that. More like pleased that a detail had actually stuck.
It pleased Tristan all over the place. “That’s weird, right? I remember your eyes, but I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner tonight.”
“I guess I made an impression.”
“It’s easy to see how you might.” Hell yes, Tristan was flirting. Hot guy. Dry spell. He was out to have a good time. “I’m guessing we met here?”
“Yeah, we did.” Gabe glanced at Noel, who apparently knew this story, because he nodded at Gabe. “About two months ago, you came to the club alone.”
Dread crept over him. “How badly did I embarrass myself?”
“Not badly. Once my dad called Noel and he explained everything, it was okay. I’m glad I was here to help.”
He was leaving out a lot of details that Tristan wouldn’t remember in half an hour, and he wasn’t entirely sure he needed to hear them. Possibly for the second, third or tenth time. Instead of pressing the issue, he took a long sip of his margarita, savoring the pop of lime and salt on his tongue. Then he looked Gabe in the eye and asked, “You wanna dance?”
Gabe’s grin was immediate and blinding. “Definitely.”
Tristan chugged the rest of his drink, then plunked the glass down on the bar. He grabbed Gabe’s hand and led the way into the sea of moving bodies. Arms and hips bumped and brushed. Music poured through him, setting the beat as he turned to face Gabe, who was already moving. A white tee clung to what was probably a perfect six-pack. Black jeans hugged his ass and outlined a nice package.
So fucking hot.
And his for now, so Tristan let go of Gabe’s hand, closed his eyes and danced.
Noel Carlson leaned one elbow on the bar top while his free arm snaked around his boyfriend’s waist. He and Shane stood there watching Tristan come to life on the dance floor.
Fun, flirty and impulsive, Tristan had been impossible not to love from their first encounter in college six years ago. Occasionally lovers, always the best of friends, they’d spent the first three years in each other’s pockets. Helping each other study, picking on each other’s choice of dating material, being a shoulder to lean on in the hard times. Noel treasured every memory of that Tristan.
The summer before their senior year, he and Tristan had been walking home from a late movie and were jumped by four drunk assholes. Noel ended up with his chest carved to pieces from a broken whiskey bottle. Tristan had been left with a traumatic brain injury that compromised his short-term memory. Thirty minutes was usually the maximum amount of time before information or a moment between them was lost to him forever.
In the three years since, Tristan had improved in some ways. Shane coined the term déjà vu sense. He innately knew certain things, such as the time period since the bashing, the fact that Noel was a police officer and lived in a different town than him, and that he was in a relationship.
Hearing him say he remembered Gabe’s eyes had been a shock for Noel. The night Noel received a call from Richard, telling him that Tristan had gone to Big Dick’s alone and was freaking out, was burned into his memory forever. The fear over what had happened and the state Tristan would be in. The anger at himself for not thinking to take Tristan out. Horror at hearing Tristan say he wished that he’d been killed by that whiskey bottle.
Noel had heard that tearful remark more than once, and it hurt every single time. He knew Tristan was unhappy living at an assisted living center surrounded by the elderly. He didn’t know how to help him, except for small steps like tonight’s outing.
“He looks so happy,” Shane said.
Tristan was writhing to the beat of the song, occasionally snaking an arm around Gabe’s shoulders or waist. Gabe had a few inches in height and a solid thirty pounds of both weight and muscle. Tristan was five ten, but he was skinny as hell because he accidentally skipped meals frequently enough to piss Noel off. He’d spoken to the staff at Benfield about it more than once, and most recently he’d threatened legal action if they didn’t make sure Tristan was properly taken care of.
Noel had that kind of power, only he’d never told Tristan. Because of Tristan’s mental state, his parents had maintained power of attorney and paid for all of his medical expenses. Last week, a lawyer for Justin Lavelle had couriered over documents giving Noel the power of attorney for Tristan. His parents would continue to pay for his room and expenses at Benfield, but they no longer wanted to be informed about or responsible for his care.
After Noel had spent ten minutes ranting his rage to Shane, he’d signed the papers. At least someone who genuinely loved Tristan was in control of his health and future.
He just hadn’t figured out how to tell Tristan about it. Yet another reason for Tristan to consider himself a huge disappointment to his parents.
Tristan’s dancing faltered. He looked around, a little wide-eyed, then down at his hands. Gabe said something. Tristan smiled, and then everything went on like normal.
“It’s kind of weird,” Noel said, practically shouting into Shane’s ear to be heard over the din.
“Tristan out there dancing with a porn star.”
Shane choked on his beer hard enough that Noel had to snag a napkin off the bar so he could blow his nose. “Asshole.”
Noel laughed. “I wasn’t trying to kill you, I swear.”
“Yeah, right.” He leaned in, his breath tickling Noel’s ear. “In a few minutes, you’re going to be out there dancing with a porn star too, you know.”
“Former porn star.”
Shane had gone into Internet porn a few months ago as a means to pay off a huge debt he owed for medical expenses, and to take the burden off his ailing brother Jason. The porn had torn at Shane’s soul and nearly kept him and Noel apart. But in the end, the debt was paid and Shane was free of it. He’d even landed the dancing job at Big Dick’s thanks to his association with Gabe on set. The only thing it hadn’t done was save Jason’s life. He’d passed away from a massive heart attack while Noel and Shane were making a birthday cake for Tristan.
Some days were harder than others, but Shane was putting the pieces back together, and Noel would do anything to make it easier on him.
“The word former is very important to the label,” Noel said. “It says that no matter what happened before, now you’re all mine.”
Shane’s soft smile was worth more than a hundred verbal “I love you’s”. “Yeah, I am. Let’s dance, officer.”
Noel finished off his vodka tonic before joining Shane in the throng. He’d seen Shane dance. He wasn’t getting out of this club without a hard-on.
During the next three hours of ridiculously frenetic dancing, Gabe reminded Tristan of his surroundings four more times. Not bad really, since Noel said the memory usually went after thirty minutes or so. Maybe it was the energy, the dancing, or even Gabe himself. It didn’t matter, because the blond man in his arms was having the time of his life, and Gabe was thrilled to be a part of it.
The first time he saw Tristan huddled on the floor of the break room, red-faced and freaking out, Gabe had wanted to comfort him. To hug him and try to figure out why he was so scared. But Tristan had flinched away from him, like he’d flinched away from his dad, so he’d let him be. It wasn’t until Noel arrived and fully explained the situation that Gabe started getting angry.
Angry that Tristan was living such a difficult life, and that an attempt to go out and find some companionship had ended in fear and tears. His anger had only been compounded by Tristan’s confession, overheard as Gabe was leaving the break room. “Why didn’t they just kill me with that fucking bottle?”
So many things in one sentence. He’d wanted to make it better somehow, even though Tristan wasn’t his to fix.
He never imagined he’d end up dancing with Tristan at Big Dick’s, both of them sweaty and sporting wood. And judging by the hard length currently thrusting against his thigh, Tristan had been blessed in that area. Tristan’s hands were everywhere. Clutching his shoulders, raking down his back, occasionally dipping low enough to squeeze Gabe’s ass. Gabe returned the favor, enjoying his own manual exploration of Tristan’s writhing form. On the thin side of lean, very little muscle definition, but so much control.
Most of the time Tristan danced with his eyes closed, seeming to rely on instinct to keep him from bumping others or stepping on Gabe’s feet. But the moments when he did open his eyes, flashes of bright blue sparkled and showed his utter joy at what they were doing. He was nothing like the scared boy from their first meeting. This Tristan was confident and alive.
And ten kinds of hot.
Don’t go there.
He couldn’t help it. Tristan was exactly his type: blond hair, fair skin, a few inches shorter. Smaller enough in stature that Gabe could really get his arms around him to snuggle after a nice, long fuck. The kind of postcoital time that usually came with relationships, and it had been a long time since he’d tried his hand at that. Not that he was contemplating a relationship with Tristan. He’d known the guy a grand total of four hours, all of which Tristan would forget by morning.
Christ, that must suck so bad for him.
“Hey, stranger!” Marty Gibbons bounced his way past Noel and Shane, grinning to beat the devil. And he’d spoken to Tristan.
Tristan faltered on the beat. “Hi?”
Marty picked up dancing right next to them, as though he’d been invited into their bubble. “I’m so surprised to see you. I figured after last time you’d never set foot in here again.”
“Sure have, but don’t worry. Gabe told me about your memory problem, so I don’t mind that you’ve forgotten me. I’m Marty.” Marty spoke in a flirty way that made Gabe’s skin prickle with irritation. Sure, maybe the pair had been about to get something on before, but tonight Tristan was dancing with Gabe. And even though he liked Marty well enough, Marty was far too self-centered to be good for someone like Tristan.
Tristan needed attention and focus, not a guy whose favorite topic was himself.
“Gabe told you?” Tristan asked.
“Well, you did kind of freak out on me, and he didn’t want me to think you were high or anything. Memory problems suck, yeah?”
“I’m already dancing. With Gabe.”
Something like pride made Gabe’s chest swell. He liked that Tristan was enjoying their time together.
“You sure?” Marty asked with a jerk of his hips. “We had a pretty good time before.”
“I’ll have to take your word on that,” Tristan replied, with just an ounce of sass.
Gabe stole a glance at Noel, who was watching them intently while his body still moved with the poetry that was Shane dancing. Shane was a natural and he’d been a fantastic addition to their Monday theme nights. He’d gotten a lot of attention all night from regulars who recognized him, but he was staying firmly in his boyfriend’s arms.
That kind of devotion made something deep inside of Gabe ache for a connection to someone.
“Well, if you change your mind,” Marty said, “you come find me.”
Gabe silently cheered when Marty drifted into the crowd. Tristan’s arms snaked around his waist, forcing their chests and groins together. Pleasure tickled its way down his spine at the pressure against his erection. A sliding, grinding pressure that was taking things from nice to wow. The tempo of the music changed from frenetic “must dance” to a sexier “oh yeah” that signaled the start of the last hour of business.
Tristan danced like a man with a very definite plan for how things were going to proceed, and Gabe didn’t know how to throw on the brakes. He didn’t want to, not really. But he also didn’t want to take advantage or put Tristan in a position to freak out again. He’d hated seeing Tristan so upset. Gabe wouldn’t allow himself to be the cause of another episode.
Because, as expected, Tristan’s motions faltered and his expression went distant, confused. He stared at Gabe, then glanced around him until he spotted Noel and Shane. He looked down where their erections were grinding together, and his face flushed.
“Gabe,” Gabe said before Tristan could ask or wonder. “We’ve been dancing for about three hours.”
“No wonder I’m so sweaty.” Tristan relaxed and fell back into the beat. His arms were looser around Gabe’s waist, and that was okay.
“Want something to drink?”
“Yeah, actually. I’m kind of feeling the burn.”
Gabe missed the press of Tristan’s lean body the moment they pulled apart. He kept hold of one of his hands, though, threading them through the throng, over to the bar. Dad already had two bottles of water waiting.
“Thanks,” Tristan said as he accepted one of the bottles. “Do you have an open tab?”
“Yep. Plus that’s my dad, so I get a hefty discount.”
“You don’t get served on the house? That seems like the best perk with a parent that owns a bar.”
Gabe laughed. “No, I insist on paying something. It was a battle, believe me. My other dad hates it but he understands. I like standing on my own two feet.”
Something in Tristan’s eyes shuttered. “Must be nice.”
“Both. Parents who care about you and being able to stand on your own feet.”
Hell. Way to go, idiot.
“I never came out to my parents before the accident,” Tristan said. “It would have just been another way I disappointed them. After the accident, they obviously found out. Noel says they haven’t visited me once, and I know in my heart that it’s the truth.”
Accident. Getting bashed wasn’t an accident.
A flash of anger at Tristan’s nameless, faceless parents settled in his gut. “I’m sorry.” Trite but Gabe didn’t know what else to say.
Tristan shrugged, then sipped his water. “It bothered me for a long time. I don’t really think it does anymore. Everything from before is so clear in my head, but it also feels distant. It’s weird.”
“I bet it is.” Gabe couldn’t imagine the immense frustration of restarting your life every half hour. Not knowing who you were with, or why you’d walked into a room. It would drive him crazy. “Noel seems like a good friend.”
“He’s the best.” Tristan sought out his friend in the crowd, his smile brightening. “We met our freshmen year in college and we’ve been best friends ever since.” That smile dimmed. “Noel was hurt too that night. He doesn’t like to talk about it so I don’t know what happened to him but he was hurt.”
Gabe glanced out in time to see Shane spin Noel around in a complicated move that had a few folks watching. Curiosity demanded he ask Noel more about the “accident”. His complete enjoyment of this conversation with Tristan kept him still. “I’m sorry that both of you were hurt.”
“Thanks.” Tristan tilted his head in an assessing way. “I don’t think I do this a lot.”
“Talk about myself with complete strangers.”
“Well, we’re not complete strangers.” He glanced at the clock above the bar. “We’ve known each other at least five hours now.”
Tristan chuckled, a soft, raspy sound that sent tingles down Gabe’s spine. “So I can upgrade you to incomplete stranger?”
This time Gabe laughed. “I don’t mind, if it means we get to keep talking.”
“Definitely. I don’t think I’ve made very many new friends these last few years.”
“Then consider one made.”
“Excellent. As long as you’re not offended when I forget your name in a little while.”
“I haven’t been offended yet.” Gabe leaned in so he didn’t have to speak so loudly. “Anyone who gets offended once it’s been explained to them isn’t worth your time or your friendship.”
Tristan’s broad smile was a thing of beauty. “Thank you. Sometimes I forget the world is bigger than my room at Benfield.”
“The world can be anything you want it to be. You have a limitation, sure, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it hold you back from experiencing things.”
“I know. It’s one of the reasons I’m seeing Noel more. I know I’ve been to see him where he lives. I don’t remember the trips, exactly, just a sense of having been there.”
“That’s definitely a start. So is coming here tonight.”
“Yeah.” Tristan fiddled with the plastic ring around the bottle’s neck. “I wanted to get out and to dance and be normal for a while. I honestly don’t think I expected to make a friend.”
“Well, I’ll tell you a secret. I’m a pretty introverted guy, so making new friends isn’t something I do easily.”
“Really? You seem like the guy who knows everyone and talks to anybody.”
Gabe shrugged. “I can be that guy. I guess growing up with two dads who own a bar helps you get to know people. And people know me by association. Doesn’t mean I’m actually friends with them. Like Marty.”
Shit. “Not important.”
“Please don’t do that.”
Tristan’s smile was gone, replaced by an intense stare that was almost accusatory. “If I ask a question, please answer it. Don’t treat my memory problem like it doesn’t matter.”
“That’s not—” Except it was what he’d done. “I’m sorry. Marty’s a regular here. He came over while we were dancing a while ago. He’s someone I know, but not someone I’d hang out with or call a friend.”
“Thank you.” His expression smoothed out. “So what do you do when you’re not hanging out here? Are you in college?”
“No, I graduated a few years ago. Communications degree that I’ve yet to use.”
“So what do you do for a job?”
“I’m a waiter. And I have a bartending license so I help out here once in a while when they’re shorthanded. Nothing fancy but it helps pay the bills.” No way on earth was he going to admit to his other job. Gabe wasn’t ashamed of doing porn, but the job wasn’t something for casual conversation.
“Is there something you’d rather do?”
“Sorry to say, no. I got a Communications degree because I could do almost anything with it, maybe go to grad school. I just never found a passion for anything.” Plus his home life was exploding all over the place, and keeping his mother under control had become another full-time job. “What about you?”
“I never graduated.” Tristan tapped his fingers on the bar top. “I was premed because that’s what my parents told me to take. One of their sons would be a doctor no matter what.”
“You have a brother?”
His whole face went blank. “I did. He died when I was thirteen. Alex was my parents’ pride and joy. He was smart, athletic, had scholarships. When he was gone, all of their expectations for him got dumped on me.”
“Man, that fucking sucks. I’m sorry.” Gabe needed to refocus the conversation. “If you’d had a choice for a major, what would you have picked?”
“Animation.” The excitement was back in his voice and his blue eyes. “I loved drawing and Pixar films, and I wanted to get into animation and storytelling. But my dad wouldn’t have ponied up tuition for that, so I did what he wanted. Didn’t get either one of us anywhere.”
“Have you tried taking classes?”
“What’s the point? I’d never remember what the instructor said. I can’t concentrate on anything long enough to complete a project. I’d forget what the hell I was doing or why I had to finish it.”
“Sorry, I didn’t really look at it that way.” Gabe felt like an ass for constantly highlighting Tristan’s limitations. He wanted Tristan to be happy, to find something he enjoyed doing, instead of wasting away his life in an assisted living center.
“I see things differently than most people,” Tristan said. “Don’t worry about it.” He gulped down the rest of his water. “You know what really sucks?”
“I’m really enjoying our conversation, and I hate that I won’t remember it.”
“I can write it down and email it to you. What’s your cell number?”
“I don’t have one anymore.”
Gabe blinked. He didn’t know anyone his age without a cell phone. “You don’t?”
“I didn’t need it. I never left Benfield, so Noel always called me directly.”
“Oh.” Duh. “But you have an email address?”
“Sure. I don’t really use it much.”
Gabe tugged his cell out of his pocket and opened up his email. “Give it to me.”
Tristan spelled it out for him.
“Brannon Rules?” Gabe had to know. “Who’s Brannon?”
“Ash Brannon. He’s a Pixar animator. He worked on Toy Story and Toy Story 2. A Bug’s Life. Over the Hedge. It’s silly but I’m a fan, and it’s the only email address I’ve ever had.”
“It’s not silly. Not if it’s something you love.”
“The nice thing is that I know those films by heart, so I can still watch them now and not get lost. It’s only new movies I can’t watch.”
“I’m glad you still have something you can enjoy.”
“Yeah. Except watching them is kind of depressing too, because I get all excited about a career I’ll never have.”
Gabe had probably reached his limit of “I’m sorry’s” for the night, so he held another one back. “You feel like dancing some more?”
“Sure. I need to take a piss first.”
“Bathrooms are in the back. Make sure you use the one on the right.”
Tristan grinned. “The one without the favors, you mean?”
Gabe nearly choked on his water.
“Hey, I’d heard of this place long before the accident. I’m guessing by your reaction that it’s true.”
“Yeah, it’s true.” Gabe couldn’t find much amusement in the fact, since the bathroom with the bowl of condoms and lube sachets was where Tristan had had his meltdown.
“You ever use that one?”
“Hell no. My dads are pretty open-minded guys, but I don’t like the idea of having nearly public sex with them both thirty feet away.”
Tristan laughed, then slipped into the crowd. Gabe watched him thread his way through dozens of dancing bodies, occasionally knocking away a grabby hand that made Gabe want to follow him so he could body-check a few guys. He almost did anyway, just in case the memory switch flipped again. But he’d seen the writing on Tristan’s hands. Hopefully that would be enough.
Gabe, waiter, sometimes bartender, no idea for the future, Gabe, two dads, Gabe, hot as hell, my new friend, don’t forget, waiter, Gabe.
Tristan kept the litany going, desperate for every crumb he had tumbling around in his head. Every small scrap of information from his conversation with Gabe, because it wouldn’t stay. He was having so much fun. He hated that it would end, only to restart and end again, until he eventually went home and it was gone forever.
Except he’s emailing me. I’ll have it to read and reread.
He just had to remember to check his email in the morning. He should have asked Gabe to remind him before they parted ways, or to tell Noel to remind him. He’d do that as soon as he got back from the bathroom.
The door on the left was temping, if only to see the infamous favors for himself. Something kept him away, though. A pang of nerves he couldn’t explain.
The bathroom on the right reeked of familiar things—sweat and musk and urine. Men still made out in the corners and against walls, but the single pairs of feet behind the three stall doors told him that heavier stuff was restricted to one area. He slipped up to a urinal, purposely ignoring the interested looks being tossed his way.
Years ago, the interest would have had him flirting up a storm with anyone who was cute enough for the effort. Tristan loved going out and meeting new people. He never turned down a party invitation, and he’d had a pretty active sex life. Memories he leaned on whenever he wanted to rub one out. One of his favorite fantasies was of the first time Noel fucked him. It had been a little awkward because they were already friends, and transitioning from friends to relationship was weird. But they’d laughed their way through it, they’d both come, and good Lord, Noel had a great dick.
Tristan redirected his thoughts before they made it difficult to piss away whatever he’d drunk tonight. He did his business and washed his hands. On his way out, someone crowded him against the wall and put a hand by his head. The guy was his age but obviously intoxicated, and Tristan had no idea if he knew him or not.
“Hey, hot stuff. Did you ditch the bodyguard?”
The guy got close enough that Tristan could feel his body heat and smell the alcohol on his breath. “Gabe. Finally get tired of him? Need new blood?”
“I’m taking a piss, and then I’m going back to Gabe. Do you mind?”
“Sure do. I saw you first.”
Okaaaaay. “Yeah, well, I have a mind of my own and I can make my own choices.”
“Choices you don’t remember making later. How do you know you really want Gabe?” The dude grabbed Tristan’s dick and squeezed.
Tristan jumped, then gave the guy a hard shove. He stumbled into someone else, who kept him from falling over. “Fuck off, guy.” He slammed through the bathroom door, irritated by the drunk fucknut’s grabby hand. He could take care of himself, but goddamn he hated people who got wasted and groped strangers without permission.
Except I guess I’m not a stranger to him.
Still didn’t give him the right.
He glanced around the crowded dance floor, a little uncertain now that his thoughts were flying on a whirlwind of annoyance.
Right. He’d left him at the bar.
“Hey, you okay?” Gabe appeared beside him, that gorgeous face wrinkled up with a frown.
“You sure? You look mad.”
“Something weird happened in the bathroom.”
Marty. A regular. Someone Gabe knew but wasn’t friends with. “Possibly.”
“I saw him go into the bathroom, and you hadn’t come out yet.”
“Then yeah, probably Marty.” Made sense.
“What did he do?”
Tristan shrugged it off because he didn’t need Gabe to defend him. “He got handsy. I took care of it. My brain might be scrambled but I’m not exactly helpless.”
“I never assumed you were.”
“No? You followed me to the bathroom to wait.”
It was hard to tell on his tanned skin, but Tristan was pretty sure Gabe blushed. A silent admission that he’d been checking up on Tristan.
“I don’t need someone to save me, Gabe.” His frustration level rose another degree. “Living like this is fucking hard enough without people treating me like I’m a child.”
“That wasn’t…” Gabe flailed for the words. “I’m sorry.”
“And I don’t think you’re helpless, and you are far from a child. I just…I got a little protective. I like you.”
Some of Tristan’s frustration floated away on a little bubble of genuine surprise. Gabe was protective of him. Gabe liked him.
This is some kind of fantastic dream, and I’ll wake up any second.
“In that case, you’re forgiven,” Tristan said.
“Thank you. Like I said before, I don’t make friends easily. I want to keep the ones I’ve got.”
“Hey, guys,” Noel said. He and—Tristan glanced at the words on his hand—Shane appeared beside them, both sweaty and disheveled. “I hate to say it, but time to call it a night.”
Disappointment curled around Tristan’s heart and squeezed an unhappy pang. “Shit, really?”
“I’m wiped, and this one”—he pointed at Shane—“has to work in the morning.”
“Noel, can you take a picture of us, please? I want to remember this. And Gabe.”
Noel quirked an eyebrow, but he did produce his phone as asked. Tristan looped his arm around Gabe’s waist, enjoying the warm press of his muscular body so close. Gabe did the same, giving Tristan’s hip a gentle squeeze. Tristan didn’t have to force his smile for the photo.
“Hopefully I’ll see you again,” Tristan said.
“Yeah. Look for that email in the morning, okay?”
“Noel, make sure I leave myself a note to check my email in the morning, okay?”
“Okay,” Noel said. To Gabe, he said, “Thanks for making him smile like that.”
Gabe nodded. “It was my pleasure. Take care of him.”
Tristan reluctantly followed Noel and Shane around the dancing mass, toward the front door. He glanced back once to find Gabe still watching from the rear of the club. He waved. Gabe waved back.
Maintaining his connection to Gabe was important to Tristan for so many reasons. Tonight was the first real step toward normal that he’d made in a long time, and even though his memory issue would never go away, he had new hope that the future would be a little less lonely.