cover of I'll Be Your ManThe day after their eventful dinner, Richard tried to reach Kyle to ask about his doctor visit. When Kyle didn’t answer, he tried not to take it personally; Kyle was busy with school and his social life. He tried again the next day. After that, Richard quit trying. If Kyle didn’t want to talk to him, there wasn’t much he could do about it, and work was sucking the life out of him. Maybe to Kyle, Richard’s job was all about crushing people, but the part Richard had always left out was that those people were trying to crush him back. Even Richard didn’t cut the ultimate deal every day, and when he didn’t, he heard about it. Being almost at the top wasn’t the same as being actually at the top.

It occurred to Richard to give Paul a ring to follow up with things; they’d exchanged numbers before Paul had left. Still, if his son didn’t want to hear from him, he couldn’t really imagine Paul would either. As much as he’d liked the young man, he didn’t want to be that dad. Kyle’s embarrassment with him was great enough without Richard trying to make friends with Kyle’s friends.

By the start of his lunch hour on the fourth day, though, Richard’s patience was exhausted by his worry, and he called Kyle again, leaving another frustrated voice mail. After the stationary bike, the heavy bag, and an intense round of crunches, he managed to forget about the situation and get on with his afternoon. Then when Richard pulled his car into the empty garage and went inside his empty house just after seven, it hit him all over again.

Having lost his appetite, Richard poured himself a glass of wine and changed into pajamas. He curled up in the corner of the big leather sofa in the living room and turned on the TV to relieve the oppressive silence. Then, unable to stop himself, he grabbed his phone and dialed Paul, praying he’d answer. It went to voice mail.

“Hi, Paul, this is Richard Lynch, Kyle’s father. How are you? I hope you don’t mind me bothering you, but Kyle’s uh…not returning my calls. I know you’re not his keeper, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d get back to –”

A loud knock at the door reverberated through the walls, and Richard jumped and hung up on accident. Cursing under his breath, he went to answer the door, redialing Paul as he went to apologize for hanging up on him. He’d just entered the foyer when he realized there was ringing on the other side. His confusion lasted until he peeked through the peephole and saw Paul on his doorstep. Startled and embarrassed, Richard terminated the call and opened the door.

“Hey, Paul. What are you doing here?”

“Oh, um, you said I could come by whenever.” Paul held up in one hand a somewhat crumpled cardboard box reading PIZZA over the top and a six-pack of beer in the other. A mountain bike was propped against the porch wall. His helmet sat on the seat.

Paul was wet from head to toe. He wore a pair of turquoise Lycra bike shorts and a tight black top with turquoise sleeves. He’d replaced his bike helmet with a black baseball cap.

“You’re already dressed for bed. Shit, I thought it would only take a couple hours to get here. Look, if it’s a bad time, I can, you know, leave this with you and head back.”

Richard stared, dumbfounded, for the better part of a minute. Paul’s careless good looks struck him anew, and he found his gaze drawn to a single bead of sweat coursing down the side of the blond’s angular cheek. Standing next to his son, Paul looked like a boy, but here alone with Richard… Shaking his head, he cleared his throat and stepped aside to gesture Paul in.

“It’s only a bit after seven. I just…” Richard trailed off, hating that he’d been caught out like this. Standing next to such a vibrant specimen of virile youth, he wanted to melt into the marble floor, humiliated at what an old man he’d let himself become. Taking the box of pizza, Richard led the way to the kitchen, his stomach grumbling audibly.

“As you probably just heard, I haven’t eaten dinner yet. I was trying to reach you, actually, so this is good.” Putting the box on the counter, Richard grabbed two plates and some paper towels. When he looked up to find Paul so near he could smell his sweat, the airy room seemed suddenly cramped, and Richard realized on a much deeper level than before that Paul was not a child. Richard placed two slices of pizza on each plate and pushed Paul’s plate toward him across the counter, trying to keep some space between them.

“Yeah, I saw it was you calling and figured there wasn’t much point in answering.” Paul grinned and took a seat at the counter. “Sorry the beer’s kind of shit. And the pizza. There weren’t a lot of options on the way.”

Paul slipped his slender phone from a flap in his pants. He poked the screen to show Richard the Google map he’d designed with his path. “I figured I could cook you something, but after a couple of hours of picking up road dust, it wasn’t going to be very good.”

The younger man folded the pizza slice and took a quick bite. Turning his attention on the beer, he opened two bottles, setting one before Richard. He gulped his and then winced as he wiped his mouth. “Okay, at the risk of seeming unmanly, I’m going to grab some water.”

So caught up had he been in watching Paul, Richard took a moment to realize he hadn’t even tasted his pizza or beer yet. He sampled each and couldn’t help smiling in gratitude. Sometimes junk-food indulgence was what a man needed. The strange compulsion to stare he could do without.

Rounding the corner, Paul seemed to notice the way Richard was looking at him. “You want me to grab a towel? I hate to drip all over your stuff.” As Paul spoke, he grabbed a glass from the cabinet and filled it from the tap. “Brought water with me, but I’ll need a refill before I head out later.”

“Don’t worry about dripping on things. We can eat by the pool. I could use some fresh air.” Without waiting for Paul to answer, Richard grabbed their meal and started for the back door.

“Yeah, sorry. I probably stink too.” Paul followed Richard out with a big glass of water in one hand and the beer in the other. “Actually, I can remedy that.”

Paul peeled off his shirt and hat, tossed them on a lounger, and then dived into the pool. Richard stared, watching the way shadows and light under the water rippled over Paul’s tanned skin as he swam from one end to the other. Water sluiced down Paul’s well-built chest as he ascended the steps from the pool. Now his thoroughly soaked Lycra pants outlined his package with such detail that he may as well have been naked. Richard forced his gaze up to Paul’s face, grateful the man was brushing water from his eyes, so he wouldn’t have caught Richard staring at him.

Paul headed to the table where Richard was sitting and plopped down across from him.

“Man, that felt good.” Paul popped open another beer and had a swig, then devoured a slice of pizza. Paul grinned and folded another slice. “You’re not the only one who was ready for dinner. So what were you calling about?”

It took Richard a moment to process the question, and he had to focus on his plate to do it. Careful to avoid staring again, he took a bite, chewed it thoroughly, and swallowed before he replied. “Kyle hasn’t spoken to me since we had dinner that night, and I’ve been worried. Did he get tested?”

“He has an appointment for next week. I’m going too. He’s made appointments but squirmed out of them, so I’m going to strong-arm him. Steal his keys the night before so he can’t escape.” Paul took another swig of beer.

Richard nodded and frowned in thought. He should be the one to force Kyle to the doctor, not Paul. But obviously Richard had very little say in what Kyle did, and it sounded like Paul had matters well in hand. After a few more bites, he asked, “So why did you bike two hours to bring me pizza?”

“I like biking and I like you, so I thought I’d drop by.” Paul leaned back, revealing a long scar that stretched from midway on his abdomen to behind his back. Then he held out his right leg to show more scars on his knee. “After being chauffeured by my dad and his friends, I’m not big on cars. Besides, they pollute. And no offense, but I hate Kyle’s car. I feel like a douche even riding in it.”

“Oh God, I know, and it’s fire-engine red too.” Richard laughed and shook his head. “I know my car isn’t exactly humble, but it’s a classic. I asked him about it, and he said he was ‘peacocking,’ whatever the hell that is. In my –”

Richard turned red and stopped abruptly. “Oh God, I’m sorry, Paul. I was about to launch into an ‘in my day’ speech, and you don’t deserve that.”

Paul gave Richard a sly smile. “I’m pretty into classics myself.”

The comment combined with the smile caught Richard’s attention, but he didn’t know how to respond, so he changed the subject. “Thanks for making him go to the clinic. He wouldn’t want me there. The only time he wants to spend with me ends in me cosigning for something.”

Rubbing the scar on his abdomen, Paul said, “Kyle’s probably clean, but I think it’s a good wake-up call. I wish he’d spend more time with you. Cathy’s a little hyper; I think it rubbed off on him.”

“If by hyper you mean high-maintenance, then you’re probably right. I want to say they weren’t always, but I’m not sure I’d be telling the truth. I did everything I could to spoil them.” Richard gestured to the expansive lawn and the wooded acreage.

Paul looked up and around, taking in the trees. “This is a nice place. Quiet. Maybe too quiet if you’re getting ready for bed at seven.”

Richard downed half his beer and ran his tongue over his upper teeth as he considered how much truth he wanted to tell. The look on Paul’s face was open and interested, so he took the gamble.

“I don’t always get ready for bed at seven, okay? I was having a rough day at the office with some people trying to stab me in the back over a deal I helped broker recently. I wanted to talk to Kyle, to hear he was okay so I could at least quit worrying and focus on work, but” — Richard finished off his beer — “I come home to an empty house every night. To be honest, until I heard about your father and her, I still held out hope Catherine would come back.

“I wanted to keep the house as she left it so she would when she was ready. I willfully participated in my own emotional and financial defrauding. Don’t tell Kyle any of this. He doesn’t need to know how stupid I let her make me.” Richard hesitated, a pained look on his face, and then reached for Paul’s hand, squeezing it as if he could somehow impart the gravity to him by osmosis.

“Oh man. You don’t get a hand squeeze for that. You get a hug.” Paul’s face scrunched up in concern as he stood and pulled Richard up to give him a very damp hug. He rested his chin on Richard’s shoulder and didn’t make any move to let go. Richard thought maybe he should pull away, but Paul seemed to want the hug as much as he did.

As Paul spoke, Richard felt his voice reverberating through his chest. “I don’t know if it’ll make you feel any better, but that look I saw on your face last night… Every guy gets that look, even exes who have given up. It’s like realizing someone you once cared about, who was so precious, let someone piss on her. But you know what? That’s on her.

“And Cathy? I don’t know, man. I can’t say she was lying to you, because she’s kinda flaky. She might’ve believed it at the time. When she speaks of you, it’s with admiration. It doesn’t make sense how people can like…respect you and love you and then stab you right through the heart.”

Paul pulled away to look Richard in the eyes. “People are kinda shitty. But you gotta love ’em anyway, or you end up all twisted and bitter. And them? They won’t care you’re hurt or you’re angry. They go on doing their shit, still loving you in their way. It’s all they’ve got. I think she gave you her best, man. Maybe her best isn’t great. You deserve better than pj’s at seven.”

Richard raised an eyebrow. “Well, when you’re right, you’re right.” As he stepped back to sink into his seat, Richard realized his silk pj’s were plastered down his front and covered in chlorinated water that would soon stain. After a few moments trying to dry them with a paper towel, he gave up with a rueful chuckle.

“Sorry about the water. I can get you new pj’s.” Paul sat by the pool, dropped his feet in, and then patted the spot next to him.

Richard waved off the offer, pulled up the legs of his PJ bottoms to his knees, and joined Paul at poolside with his feet in the water. “You sound like you’ve had more than your fair share of shitty people not loving you enough.”

Richard furrowed his brow. “Is that too personal? Kyle’s always telling me I’m too nosy. If you’d rather swim or something, I can go back inside and watch the DVR.”

“I’ve not yet had the privilege of being in love, but I see a lot of shit. And I guess I came to some of these realizations over my dad. I mean, at this point I probably seem like the long-suffering son, and maybe I am. But I tried running away. I tried changing him, begging him to be different, but he’s who he is.” Paul kicked the water until it splashed up in light sprays. “I’ve comforted husbands, wives, kids, half siblings, and now Kyle’s castoffs.

“People aren’t going to change. It’s in their nature. I’ve been on the periphery, watching all of the backstabbing and crazy shit go down. And you know, it’s either I love my dad as he is, or I kick him out of my life. It wouldn’t make a huge difference to him, so I have to do it for me.”

Paul cracked his neck. “I’m not sure if I even can fall in love. I don’t know if I could trust someone enough after all I’ve seen. Even when I’ve tried it, I’m either waiting for the other shoe to drop, or dealing with the aftermath of the shoe dropping.”

Richard wrapped his arm around the young man’s shoulders, gave him a squeeze, then exhaled heavily.

“I only divorced her because I didn’t want Kyle to grow up thinking it was better to be walked over than to be alone. I needed to be strong for him. You know, while he was growing up, I thought, Someday Kyle will be old enough to see how much it cost me to give him that strength, but now I know I’ll be in the grave before he hits that point of maturity. Sad story, true story.”

Pulling his arm away so he could fold them both over his chest, Richard stared at the clear water rippling around his feet. “Kyle doesn’t understand why I never go out, why I didn’t move on, when to him it was so obvious right from the start his mother had. The truth is I couldn’t give up hope the girl I fell for was still in there somewhere. But the hurt was worth it for those few good years, Paul. Don’t give up on it altogether.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll see. Most people aren’t worth all of the hurt.” Paul’s jaw tightened for a moment, and then he sighed. He bumped his shoulder with Richard’s. “I don’t get why Kyle doesn’t hang out with you more. I guess it’s the fathers and sons thing, but I think you’re cool.”

Slipping into the water, Paul reached for Richard. “Come on in. I’ve already ruined your pj’s. May as well go wild.”

Paul was so handsome looking up at him, so at home in the water, so comfortable in his youth and beauty, that Richard felt a pang of self-consciousness. “I… All right.” He sucked in a quick deep breath, took off his button-down top, and lowered himself into the pool beside Paul.

Laughing at himself as much as the situation, he asked, “Do you really think I’m cool?”

“Yeah, I do. You’re just you. And you follow up your beliefs with action. That’s pretty rare.” Paul’s gaze lingered on Richard’s chest. He blushed when Richard caught him looking. “A hard man is good to find.” Paul cleared his throat. “I mean, a good man is hard to find.”

Richard’s tongue flicked over his lips. He was already pressed against the wall, so he couldn’t back away. Realizing the ridiculousness of assuming it was anything more than idle flirting, he swallowed his gay panic and laughed at the joke.

“I can’t remember the last time someone flirted with me, even in jest.” Richard lifted his wet hands and, with an awkward grin, flicked water at Paul’s face. “You don’t watch out, and Kyle will come after you for making me think I’m not dead yet.”

Paul ducked his head. “I’m sorry. It just came out. I can’t even imagine what Kyle would say. But I could take him. He doesn’t work out enough.”

Standing like a fighter, Paul shadowboxed, splashing water around. “The look on his face would be priceless, though.”

Richard could imagine. He laughed and adopted a similar pose to Paul, faking and dodging, lifting his fists to bump Paul’s. “So Kyle’s a wuss, huh? He gets that from Cathy. She’d rather cut carbs or something than do crunches.”

Richard shook his head and danced clumsily around Paul, the water hindering his usually deft footwork and almost tripping him. Grinning at the effort, he said, “Everything’s always come so easy to that boy. Nice face, tall, never had to wear dorky clothes or get orthodontics. Smart enough to coast. If it takes effort, he doesn’t want it. Shame. I want to pretend it’s not my fault, but I spoiled him rotten, and that’s on me. It would serve him right if —

“Wait, does he know you’re here?” Richard straightened, standing stock-still as he stared at Paul with dread.

“No. I mean, I don’t usually check in with him before I go visit a friend.” Paul chewed his lip. “Is that bad?”

One corner of Richard’s mouth quirked up, and his eyes twinkled. “He can’t be bothered to return my phone calls. I don’t think he deserves to know what I’m doing. What do you think?” Laughing with an edge of bitterness, he splashed Paul, feeling more playful by the moment.

“So what are you doing? Flirting with his roommate?” Paul splashed him back and grinned impishly. “Fending off the advances of a young, impetuous gentleman?”

“And enjoying myself, surprisingly enough. I’m blaming the beer.” Richard turned his face away from the splashing, slapping the water with both hands in Paul’s direction as he tried to avoid getting chlorine in his eyes. “Is this what having fun feels like? I’d forgotten.”

“Tsunami!” Paul skimmed his hand over the water, creating a big wave. He laughed as the water splashed over Richard. “Yeah, this is what fun feels like. Do you ride? Maybe I can show you some more fun on a bike…and that sounded kind of dirty, sorry.”

“How was that dirty? Wait, no, don’t tell me. I don’t need to know.” Richard snorted and shook the water from his short, graying hair. “I do the stationary every other day, and when I get the chance, I take my real bike out for a spin, but I haven’t had much occasion to do that in recent years.”

“Years? Oh we’ve got to get you out of here. How about Saturday morning? We can get some good riding in before it gets too hot. I’m assuming you’re used to getting up early if you’re in bed by seven.” Paul held up his hands. “I know, I know, you weren’t going to bed yet.”

Mashing his lips together in a nervous line, Richard sized Paul up, gauging his seriousness. “Would you really like to hang out again sometime?”

“Yeah, you’re fun. Plus maybe when we get back you can give me a cooking lesson over lunch.”

A heady flush of pleasure heated Richard’s face. “That would be wonderful, Paul. I haven’t had anything but work to do on a Saturday in…well, a long time. I can’t even feel guilty I don’t want to take Kyle along, because he hates biking.

“If he doesn’t ask, don’t tell him. If he knows ahead of time, he’ll try to tag along, and he’ll complain the whole outing.” Richard lowered his head then with the first prickling of shame, one hand lifting to scrub at his face. “I shouldn’t be selfish, though. And I shouldn’t be poaching his friend, should I?”

“Oh, I wasn’t going to tell him.” Paul leaned in. “I kinda wanted you to myself.”

Paul dunked his head under the water so it would slick his hair back again. “And you’re not poaching his friend. I’m not going to stop being his friend. He won’t be up and going on a Saturday before three anyway.”

“You make a valid point.” Richard smiled, an easy, happy feeling enveloping him as he looked at his friend — his friend too now, rather than merely Kyle’s. “I definitely need someone who can keep up with me. No one my age seems interested in bike trips.”

Giving Paul a last splash, he heaved himself out of the pool. “And I think you need an older man in your life. If you don’t, don’t tell me. I like to feel needed.”

“I don’t think you’re as old as you act.” Paul nimbly emerged from the pool and stretched. “So did you really never date? How did you keep the women off you?”

Richard perked a brow at Paul. “I really never dated. I was in love. It wouldn’t have been fair to anyone for me to…you know? And women never attacked me like wild dogs the way you’re making it sound. They’d flirt or whatever, but I’d never follow up on it. When they got more aggressive with their interest, I’d let them know I was hung up on someone else.”

Put like that, it sounded sad, and Richard shrugged and looked over at Paul. “It was a mistake, wasn’t it?”

“If you were hung up on someone else and you were being honest, then that’s the kindest you could’ve been to them.” Paul squeezed the water from his hair. “If you came to the bar where Kyle and I go, though, you’d probably need a bat.”

Richard laughed at the idea. “You must be beating them off too, a gorgeous boy like you.” Richard leaned in to nudge Paul and gave him a conspiratorial wink. “I smell like money to discerning feminine noses. Right now, though…

“If Cathy showed here naked and looking like the day we met, I still wouldn’t sleep with her knowing she’s betrayed me like that. And, it’s not just me. She’s betrayed everything she used to stand for, everything that made her different. I had to change my life to be ‘worthy’ of her love, but she seemed so confident, so sure of what she was holding out for… I wanted so many things I thought that I shouldn’t. I thought ‘this woman could be enough for you forever,’ and loving her did save me. When I saw how the nineties played out, I was glad I never –” Richard shook his head and looked away from Paul, suddenly aware of where his thoughts were going. He laughed softly to defuse the moment and wrinkled his nose. “So, it’s time for Papa Bear to move on to a new bowl of oatmeal.”

Paul’s lips twitched and he nodded, then pressed his lips together, then burst out in laughter. “Papa Bear, huh? I thought you straight boys called it a honey pot.”

The words made Paul wrinkle his nose and shake his head too. “Ick, ick, ick, I don’t want to think about Cathy’s bits. Argh, image out of my head.”

“Well, I could tell you to think about my bits instead, but I think that would violate the Geneva Conventions. I’m afraid the danger of hanging out with people old enough to be your parents is that you occasionally have to picture old-people sex. Sorry, kiddo.” Richard laughed and gave Paul’s thigh a smack made twice as loud by the waterlogged Lycra shorts. “Quick, think about batting averages. Wait, that’s to delay orgasm. Quick, imagine… I don’t know what gay boys imagine these days. You’re on your own.”

“Sometimes gay boys think about Papa Bear dicks.” Paul pressed his lips together and then peered around until he found his shirt. “But you’re not really a bear. More of a daddy. Bears are hairy, and you’re not like…woolly. And a lot of them are, you know, burly. Which you aren’t.”

“I’m a — Wait, what?” Richard furrowed his brow. “I probably shouldn’t ask, should I? Not that your jargon isn’t fascinating, but I have the feeling if I figure out my place in your fabulous world, I’ll be deeply disappointed.” Laughing and rising to his feet, he tugged his waistband to keep the wet silk from sticking and sliding. Richard picked up his shirt from where he’d left it and headed back to the patio table to crack open another beer.

“Don’t tell Kyle, but I always comforted myself with the idea I could switch teams to avoid the mistrust-of-women issue, and if you destroy my fall-back plan, I may have to kill myself.”

Paul dropped back into his seat and stared at Richard wide-eyed. “Really? I mean, did you ever think about it? Like, really? No, you’re just saying that. All straight guys say that when they’re cranky with women.” Looking down at his hands where he’d wadded up his shirt, Paul said, “But you’d kill if you did. You’re a really attractive man. I guess you forgot that because you’re so walled off, but it’s true.”

“Pretty boy, if you call going without for a decade merely ‘cranky with’ women, then you have no concept of time.” Richard snorted and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, embarrassed to be having this conversation. Still, he needed to be honest with Paul; he could understand, maybe, if anyone could.

“It is a joke, I admit, because the idea of me ever dating again is comical, but I…you know, I thought about it. Even before finding out Catherine was never coming back.” Richard’s expression of guarded disdain softened as he scooted his chair closer to Paul and took another swig. “Thank you for not laughing in my face, by the way. I know Kyle would.”

“Kyle would be horrified, not because of the gay, but because you’re his dad. As a rule, sons don’t like thinking about their dads’ sex lives.” Paul scooted closer too and grabbed a beer. “It’s not just about where you put your dick. You should be interested in the other dick.”

Paul tilted his head. “Do you think about kissing other men? Or touching them? Would it be weird for you to feel a bit of scruff against your chin when you’re kissing? What kind of men are you attracted to?”

“Oh God, I don’t know.” Richard flushed — definitely not a blush; Richard did not blush — and cleared his throat. The questions did have answers, complicated ones he couldn’t yet give because he’d never fully processed them. “Why does it matter? I guess Robert Redford was a bit dreamy, wasn’t he?”

“Robert Redford’s blond,” Paul said after a long silence after he had a few more swigs of beer.

“So’s Catherine. Maybe I had a type. Anyway, looking back… It’s like I wanted to find my Sundance Kid, and if I had someone like that, it wouldn’t seem strange to kiss or touch them. When you’re that close, affection is natural, isn’t it? It’s not just fucking. It’s something else entirely. Maybe it isn’t just about body parts.” Flustered, Richard clammed up and drank some more beer before stuffing some lukewarm pizza in his mouth to give him an excuse not to talk.

Paul looked at the horizon. The sun had dropped, and they were in shadow now. Richard’s cautious sideways glances weren’t enough to make out Paul’s expression.

“After all of the time you’ve spent waiting already, a little while longer isn’t a big deal. Are you looking for someone your age, or would you care? A younger person could keep up with you better.”

“Oh, I don’t care. It’s a pipe dream, Paul.” Richard gave up on the covert peeks and turned to gaze at him, his brain trying to wrap around what he thought was going on beneath the surface. It seemed impossible that someone like Paul would be interested in him. Paul didn’t need Richard’s money, and with that face and that body, he could have anyone he wanted.

“I want someone who needs me in a way that doesn’t leave me empty.” Richard laughed under his breath. “Someone with a sneaky sense of humor who’d escape with me to Bolivia with the law on our tail.”

Paul looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “I can’t imagine anyone not going to Bolivia or anywhere else with you if you asked. There are plenty of adventurous blonds, male and female. It’s finding one you can trust that’s problematic.”

After polishing off his beer, Paul set the bottle on the table. “You’re not the kind of guy who fucks around, are you?”

“I outgrew that foolishness a long time ago.” Richard gave him a wan smile. “I guess I thought Catherine would too. When she started cheating, we talked about it, about her curiosities and needs, and it hurt, but I wanted to give her everything, every opportunity. I gave her as long as I could — years, Paul; until Kyle got old enough to wonder what was going on — before I had to end it. Even after the divorce, she kept saying she missed me, missed what we’d had, that she’d figure it out and come home. That she still hasn’t guts me in ways I can’t give voice to. I would never put someone else through that. Never.”

Struggling against an unpredictable surge of confused feelings, he inhaled deeply and stretched, trying to keep the tension in his muscles at a bearable level. “I want someone to pour all this love into, to give my life meaning. People said having a kid would do that, but that was a serious case of misguided biological conditioning on the part of my advisors.”

Paul laughed. “Well, I’m sure Kyle will do you proud eventually. You have a lot of love to give. There are lots of takers in this world. It’s hard to find someone who wants to give back.” Paul stared at Richard, and maybe Richard was projecting his longing on Paul, but it still made his breath catch. He stared at the younger man, watching his lips move as he continued, as if reading them would make the implications clearer. “But even I know it takes time to establish trust. You don’t want to give to the wrong person and then get your heart broken. It hurts too much when you’re so far out on a limb.” Paul pulled on his shirt, breaking the spell and causing Richard to look away guiltily. “Anyway, I should probably hop on the bike if I want to get home before the drunks start ruling the road.”

“Oh, damn it.” Richard looked back at Paul, shamefaced. “It didn’t even occur to me you might need a ride, or I’d have cut myself off an hour ago. You can stay the night if you need to.”

Rubbing his temples with his fingertips, Richard stared at the rippling surface of the pool, wishing he and Paul were back there again, splashing each other and being foolish instead of swimming in much deeper emotional waters.

“Actually, if you’re okay with it… I probably should’ve cut myself off too. The only thing worse than drunk drivers on the road is a drunken cyclist. And all of that pizza. Not my finest moment.”

Paul cracked his back, his muscles rippling under tanned skin. “I promise I’m not like my dad. You can have me over for the night without me trying to move my stuff in. I’ll take off when you leave for work. I can ride in the morning air.”

“That works for me.” Richard smiled in agreement, glad someone at least would rather stay over one night here than end up a splatter on the road. “I keep things ready for Kyle in case he ever needs to stay, but he always manages not to. He’d rather take a cab all the way back to the city than spend the night. I’ll help you settle in. C’mon.”

Richard showed him inside and paused in the living room to turn off the TV before heading to the stairs. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d led someone up the graceful staircase to the bedrooms, but he’d pictured it a few times in fantasy, and none of those imaginings involved his son’s best friend. He snorted under his breath and continued down the hallway to the door next to Kyle’s.

Gesturing and opening the door, Richard said, “This one shares a bathroom with Kyle’s with a dressing-room-slash-closet on either side of it. All the stuff you might need is in there somewhere. Feel free to look around; you won’t be disturbing anything.”

Then Richard turned to point at the heavy oak double doors at the far end of the hall. “Master bedroom, obviously. If you need anything, poke me. I’m a light sleeper and therefore zen about being awakened.”

“Awesome.” Paul stepped into the bedroom, looked around, and smiled. “I’ll probably pass out once the lights are out. Big day and all.”

“We’re still on for Saturday, right?” Trying to contain the neediness, Richard added hastily, “It’s okay if you changed your mind.”

“Oh no, Butch. You’re not getting out of it. Not after you said you need adventure in your life.” Paul looked around and then back at Richard. He pulled his shirt off, tossed it on a chair sitting by the window, and headed to the bathroom. “I promise I’ll brush my teeth and everything. Night, Butch.”

“Night.” Richard lingered in the doorway, trying to control the lonely expression on his face as he watched Paul disappear through the doorway at the back of the room. Then his sense of propriety hit him like a rubber band pulled too far. Blinking with disorientation, he headed to his room to take a shower and go to bed, wondering what had possessed him to speak so frankly to someone he barely knew.

One thing he did know: Saturday would be interesting.

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