The Burnt Toast B&B (A Bluewater Bay Story)
After breaking his arm on set, Wolf’s Landing stuntman Ginsberg Sloan finds himself temporarily out of work. Luckily, Bluewater Bay’s worst B&B has cheap long-term rates, and Ginsberg’s not too proud to take advantage of them.
Derrick Richards, a grizzled laid-off logger, inherited the B&B after his parents’ untimely deaths. Making beds and cooking sunny-side-up eggs is hardly Derrick’s idea of a man’s way to make a living, but just as he’s decided to shut the place down, Ginsberg shows up on his doorstep, pitiful and soaking wet, and Derrick can hardly send him packing.
Not outright, at least.
The plan? Carry on the B&B’s tradition of terrible customer service and even worse food until the pampered city boy leaves voluntarily. What Derrick doesn’t count on, though, is that the lousier he gets at hosting, the more he convinces bored, busybody Ginsberg to try to get the B&B back on track. And he definitely doesn’t count on the growing attraction between them, or how much more he learns from Ginsberg than how to put out kitchen fires.
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Derrick recited the order to himself as he clattered around his parents’ cramped kitchen: Two plates of eggs, one of them scrambled and the other soft-boiled. Four slices of toast, all whole wheat, one not buttered. Four slices of bacon. Two sausages. Hash browns . . .
Shit, hash browns! He’d forgotten all about those. Cursing a blue streak, he added another fry pan to the already-crowded stove. His scrambled eggs looked discolored and thin, nothing like the fluffy yellow clouds his mother used to make. He gave his unevenly cooked sausages a quick roll in the pan, bacon fat spitting back at him as he did, and then hurried to the freezer for the bag of preshredded hash browns.
Sure, his mom used to grate fresh potatoes by hand in the mornings before any of the guests were awake, but Derrick wasn’t his mother. Wasn’t even his father, who’d known his way around the kitchen, even if he hadn’t done much cooking himself. The guy could at least fry bacon, which was more than could be said of Derrick and the shriveled black strips sizzling and smoking away in his pan.
It was almost a good thing that the Bayview B&B was underwater, because if Derrick was this stressed cooking for two guests, how in the hell could he hope to manage a full house? And as soon as he was done here, he’d have to wash their dishes, then head upstairs to strip their bed and clean their toilet. And dust. And vacuum. Not to mention the yard work and the bills and his own laundry.
What the hell was he doing with his life?
Burning toast, apparently. His two orders of whole wheat toast were as black as his bacon—he never had figured out how to cook it in the oven, and hadn’t had the money or give-a-crappery to replace the broken toaster.
He wasn’t meant for this. Waiting on people, cooking and cleaning, playing happy homemaker. It was all wrong. He was thirty-five, for Christ’s sake. He was supposed to be working for the logging company he’d escaped to the moment he was legally old enough to get a job outside the damn B&B, except by now in a management position. Working in camp all week, coming home to his own place—hopefully with a housekeeper—on the weekends. Hooking up with younger guys whenever he was in town and feeling the itch, and never having to worry about anyone seeing or hearing anything they didn’t need to see or hear. Especially not paying guests with access to online review websites. That was supposed to be his parents’ problem.
A glance at his father’s battered watch told him his guests had been waiting in the dining room for nearly half an hour. Half an hour with nothing but a couple glasses of orange juice and a pot of coffee to tide them over. He grimaced at his burnt toast and bacon. Slimy scrambled eggs. Sausages so dehydrated they were starting to look like pepperoni sticks.
At least his hash browns looked okay—but then, it was pretty tough to screw up anything frozen. Could you buy frozen scrambled eggs? He dumped the hash browns and sausages onto two plates, left the bacon in the pan it was stuck to, tossed four fresh slices of bread into the broiler, and took a plate in each hand. He could bring them something to eat while he tried to figure out the rest of their meal.
Staring down at his handiwork, he couldn’t help but remember his mother’s breakfast plates, hot and artfully arranged, with little tomato flowers for decoration. Bowls of fresh fruit salad and perfect sunny-side-up eggs. Fresh-squeezed juice and French press coffee.
Of course, back then, guests had paid more than twice the price Derrick now charged.
Too bad he couldn’t just say “You get what you pay for,” to every guest who complained about his subpar hosting abilities.
Instead, he forced what he hoped was an apologetic smile onto his face as he carried his two pathetic plates into the B&B’s dusty dining room.
Which was empty.
His guests’ table was abandoned, their drained cups of juice and mismatched coffee mugs the only sign they’d been there at all.
“Hello?” Derrick set their plates down on the table anyway. “Breakfast’s ready!” He eyeballed his sad selection of food. “. . . Kind of.”
“Out here!” a woman called from the front room.
“Oh, uh, okay,” he muttered, picking up the plates. No, wait, that was ridiculous. If they wanted to eat, the plates would be right here waiting for them in the dining room. He set them back down again. Straightened his shirt and smoothed his hair, then headed in the direction of the voice.
His guests, a middle-aged couple indulging the wife’s rabid Wolf’s Landing obsession on their road trip down the West Coast to Vegas, were standing with packed suitcases by the front desk. The wife flashed him an uncomfortable smile. “We’ve . . . actually decided to find our breakfast elsewhere, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Uh, of course,” Derrick said. Now what did a good host do in a situation like this? He’d spent so much of his childhood being teased for working here—Playing maid with mommy again, Dicky? Bet you make a real ugly girl in that little black dress—that he’d frankly blocked out everything he’d learned about running this place. Assuming he’d ever learned anything in the first place . . . “Right! Well, uh, there’s a couple of places in town I can recommend.” Now, to think of where they were and what they were called . . .
“That won’t be necessary,” the husband announced. “In fact, we’re checking out early, aren’t we, dear?”
His wife winced like he’d pinched her. “Yes, that’s right.”
“So you won’t be needing the room till . . .” Derrick slipped behind the desk, scrutinizing the big binder he used for bookings. “. . . Friday anymore?”
The husband’s eyes narrowed. “No, we won’t be. We’re checking out. Right now.”
“It’s just,” the wife tried, “there’s a nice chain hotel on the highway that’s much more convenient—”
“Don’t lie to the man, Helen.” Her husband gave Derrick a hard stare. “My wife doesn’t want to offend you, but the way I see it is, you’re a professional, right?”
A professional fuckup, maybe. Derrick nodded mutely.
“Well then, let me just say from one professional to another: just because you own a big empty house in a tourist destination doesn’t mean you’re remotely qualified to charge money for accommodations.”
Ain’t that the truth.
Derrick rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll rip up your check, okay? Your stay’s on me.”
Helen looked like she was about to protest, but her husband took her by the arm and turned her toward the door before she could. “You think about what I said,” he lectured over his shoulder, then gestured to his two suitcases, still sitting on the floor by the desk. “You can at least bring those out to the car for me.”
“Of course,” Derrick replied, because lifting heavy things, well . . . that was maybe the one single part of running this B&B he wouldn’t screw up.
The fresh air he got just from walking his former guests’ bags to their Toyota did him a hell of a lot of good, so after the car pulled out of the driveway, he only returned to the house long enough to grab his coat and keys.
Professional, hah. Derrick didn’t belong in a cramped kitchen playing maid. He was meant to be out here, in the open air.
He breathed it in: cool and green and a little bit damp, like it might rain later. The B&B was uphill from main street, on the outskirts of town, nestled in a dense overgrown forest cut through by a single paved road, a few old homestead properties, and a whole maze of trails—some of them man-made, but most the narrow kind worn in by deer. Derrick followed one of the deer trails because he didn’t feel like coming across any well-meaning neighbors walking their dogs. Or worse, Hollywood folks on their morning jogs. Not that they’d try to make conversation with a grizzled meat-eating mountain man like Derrick, but the fewer reminders of their invasion, the better.
Not that he was one of those types who hated change. He wasn’t even one of those types who hated “outsiders” as long as they didn’t give him good reason to. It was just . . . The presence of producers and actors and stagehands and gaffers swarming through town reminded him of everything he’d lost. His old job, his old life. It wouldn’t be so bad if being laid off hadn’t coincided with the arrival of Wolf’s Landing. Wouldn’t even be so bad if, after being laid off, he’d found another real job instead of getting stuck running the floundering B&B.
His parents had been so excited when they’d found out the show would be filmed on location. The B&B had been struggling for years, and they’d been looking forward to all the guests the show would bring to Bluewater Bay. Especially after Derrick had lost his job, because they’d thought it would provide him with some much-needed financial security.
So much for that, eh, Mom and Pops?
God knew why they’d ever thought that in the first place, given how obviously unhappy he’d been about his responsibilities there as a kid.
Considering the direction of his musings, it came as no surprise when his hike took him through the woods to a familiar, manicured clearing. Bayside Ridge Cemetery, with its gentle slope and sliver of water view above the trees. Derrick dusted his jeans and straightened his coat as he made his way between the gravestones. Bluewater Bay had been around since at least the 1920s, so its graveyard was a mishmash of crumbling old crosses and glossy granite stones. Derrick knew the names here almost better than he knew the names of the living people in town: Amelia Schooler, 1931–1994; Walt Gibson, 1904–1964; Delilah Shaughnessy, 1975–1990; old bird Norma Bell, 1896–1980; Baby Boy Jameson, born and died November 6, 2001, his grave site still covered in teddies and toy cars.
Michael and Shannon Richards.
He crouched in front of their headstone, carefully sweeping away a couple of fallen leaves atop it. “Uh, hey,” he said. “I’m kinda running your business into the ground. I burnt the breakfast this morning. It was a mess. The guests ended up checking out early, but not before giving me a lecture.” Stupid, to talk to a gravestone. Stupid and cliché, and yet, Derrick was beginning to realize he’d come down here this morning for a reason. That reason was permission, and since he couldn’t call a family gathering in the living room the way he’d done when he’d first lost his job, this would have to suffice. “The husband was real mad. He said I was in the wrong business. And I . . . I kinda agree. You know how sometimes people tell you you’re useless and all it does is get your back up and make you wanna tell ’em Fuck you, what do you know?”
He could practically hear his mother’s reply: Language, Derrick!
And his father’s, too: For Christ’s sake, Shannon. He’s a man. Men swear. And then, Dick, don’t swear in front of women. Especially not your mother.
Derrick smiled wistfully. “Well, this time I didn’t feel that way at all. And now that I’m here, I’m kind of thinking maybe it was a sign. I gave it a try, you know I did. For you guys, I tried. I’m just not cut out for it.”
He wished they’d reply, even just the ghosts of their voices in his head, but there was nothing.
No refusal, but no permission, either.
You’re a man now. Time to make your own decisions.
Leaving things up to shit like “signs,” begging his dead parents for approval . . . Why bother with any of that? It didn’t seem like the actions of any grown man.
He didn’t want to run the B&B anymore, so he shouldn’t. That was the honest-to-God straightforward truth.
So why didn’t he feel more confident in his decision?
Maybe because in this case, being a man meant not being a good son.
Well, tough. Why should he have to be a good son to parents who weren’t even here? He’d spent his whole life being a good son, spent years getting up to do laundry before school and coming home to chop wood and mow the lawn and fix leaky toilets after. He ought to have been relieved of all good son duties on the rainy night he got the call from the Washington State Patrol telling him that his parents had flipped their SUV. That was three years ago—three years now he’d been running this place, or at least trying to run it, on his own. It seemed to him, in light of everything, that he’d gone above and beyond.
“Sorry,” he said as he stood, even though logically he’d talked himself into not being sorry at all. He patted the gravestone. His eyes tingled, but he didn’t cry.
Which was okay, apparently, because just then the world decided to do the crying for him: without warning, the gray sky overhead split at the seams, drenching him with rain in an instant.
Derrick was a seasoned enough outdoorsman that he could normally get out of the rain before it fell, but he’d obviously been too distracted to catch how fast the sky had darkened or how the sounds of the forest had changed, or the nearly imperceptible electric shift of the barometric pressure. Too late, he pulled his hood up. “Better get going,” he said, then turned and jogged back the way he’d come before the trail could get too mucky.
He’d tear the half-rotted B&B sign down on his way into the house. Maybe if he got back quick, it would still be dry enough for kindling. He’d need a fire today just to get the chill out of his bones, not to mention to satisfy the urge to burn the B&B’s ledgers and his final guests’ check.
Too bad. He really could have used that money. He’d have to hit the pavement hard if he hoped to find real work before his funds dried up. Mountain man he might be, but that didn’t mean he wanted to rely on firewood and hunting to eat and stay warm.
He was feeling pretty settled with his choice by the time he made it back to the B&B, but he didn’t get to rip out the signpost like he’d planned to.
Because there was someone standing on his front porch. A young man, barely out of his teens by the look of him, wearing an unzipped leather bomber jacket and soaking wet from his sopping brown hair to his battered suede boots. As Derrick drew closer, he could see the kid was shivering, hugging himself one-armed, his other arm in a cast half-tucked into his open coat.
A huge Army green duffel bag lay at his feet.
“Hey!” the kid called once Derrick was within earshot, flashing him a wet, toothy smile. “Any room at the inn?”
Well, Dick, you did ask for a sign.
Derrick gave his head a shake and trotted up to the house. Good son, bad son, good host, bad host, there was no way he could leave anyone that inappropriately dressed out in the rain.
Ginsberg should have caught a cab or bummed a ride. That much was obvious now. Hard to think straight, though, when he was still smarting from losing the use of his bike. But standing here on the rickety whitewashed porch of Bluewater Bay’s Worst B&B—as voted by the internet—soaking wet and shivering, had a way of rearranging one’s priorities.
The guy coming up the driveway now didn’t look too happy to see him, scowling out from under his jacket’s hood, but he hadn’t gone full redneck and shouted Get off my property! either.
Ginsberg forced his frigid lips to smile.
“The hell are you thinking, dressed like that?” Grizzled and Grumpy scolded, but still stooped to pick up Ginsberg’s bag for him.
Ginsberg shrugged. This wasn’t exactly the time or the place to defend his carefully curated fashion choices. “Vanity?”
His host snorted. “Well, get inside and I’ll start a fire. Get you warmed up.”
When he opened the door, though, it seemed there was already a fire going somewhere, because the smoke alarm was wailing, and the front hall of the house was filled with a haze of blue smoke.
“Fuck!” Ginsberg’s host stormed inside, boots trailing mud.
Wherever the fire was, it obviously wasn’t in the fireplace where it belonged. Ginsberg chased him inside.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fucking oven! Fucking stove! Fucking breakfast!”
The kitchen, then. Ginsberg followed the sound of cursing into a smoke-filled kitchen, where his host was struggling with a dusty fire extinguisher. Across from him, a pan on the stove top and the oven door were billowing smoke. A mess if Ginsberg had ever seen one, but nothing warranting a 911 call, either.
“Give me that,” he commanded, loudly to be heard over the alarm, and snatched the fire extinguisher from his host’s hands. A quick check of the pressure gauge, and he pulled his sopping wet undershirt over his mouth and nose, yanked the extinguisher’s pin, took aim at the stove’s burners, and pulled the trigger. As Ginsberg neutralized the fire on the stove top, his host dragged a footstool to the center of the room, where the smoke alarm was mounted on the ceiling, and knocked the battery free.
Sudden silence, and a thick blanket of white powder coating the stove top. Ginsberg kicked the smoking oven shut. Turned the whole damn thing off.
After setting the fire extinguisher down, he gave his forehead a swipe with his good arm. Didn’t know whether he’d wiped away rain or sweat. “Well, that was fun.”
His host blinked at him in shock, coughed, then headed for the kitchen’s small window to open it. “Good thing you were here. I got no idea how to use one of those things.”
“I’ve got a fair amount of experience with fire,” he said, scrutinizing the extinguisher’s paper tag. “We’re lucky it even worked. The thing’s expired.”
“I didn’t know they did that.”
“I guessed as much.” He put out a hand. “I’m Ginsberg, by the way.”
“Derrick Richards.” The other man took Ginsberg’s hand in an easy, powerful shake.
“So how about that fire?” Ginsberg asked, forcing himself to let go of Derrick’s big hand. “The one you were planning on setting on purpose, I mean?”
They hung around the kitchen a few minutes more, just until Ginsberg was sure the fire in the oven was completely smothered and Derrick deemed it safe to replace the battery in the smoke alarm, and then they headed through the B&B’s cluttered but quaint dining room and into a similarly decorated sitting room.
Derrick may not have been handy with putting out fires, but he clearly had a knack for getting them going, because after a couple minutes crouched in front of the fireplace, a cheerful little blaze was already warming the room. Ginsberg, not wanting to ruin the dilapidated old sofa with his wet jeans, sidled up close to the flames and peeled off his coat, laying it out flat on the hearth to dry. He bent his head toward the fire and scrubbed his hand through his hair, sending water droplets flying.
“I’ll . . .” Derrick muttered, “I’ll just go get you a towel, then.”
Ginsberg stayed close to the fire—where he was simultaneously too hot and too cold, shivering and steaming—while he waited for Derrick to return. He sure hoped the guy had a room available, because while the fire was definitely a nice thought, the sooner he could get out of these wet jeans, the better. A hot shower with a plastic bag to wrap his cast in wouldn’t go amiss, either. Or a cup of coffee. And since he was already standing here wishing for things likely not to be provided by Bluewater Bay’s Worst B&B, why not add a back rub, a shot of whiskey, his very own pony . . .
He was still chuckling to himself about his unflagging optimism when a threadbare towel dropped on top of his head, partially obscuring his vision.
“Thanks again,” he said, towel-drying his hair before moving on to his shoulders and arms. “Do you have a blow-dryer, just on the off chance? My hair’s . . . particular. I cringe to think of what it looks like right now.”
“Rooster,” Derrick replied.
The guy’s expression was totally flat. Ginsberg had no idea whether he was joking or not, and it kinda felt like the social equivalent of a mouthful of metal fillings and tinfoil. He cleared his throat, draping the towel over his shoulders, suddenly glad he hadn’t taken his tank off. It might be completely see-through and sticking to his skin, but it was a layer of something between him and this inscrutable, hulking man.
Derrick cleared his throat too, studiously looking at anything that wasn’t Ginsberg. “So, Giiiiinsberg. Seattle, or LA?”
“Which is it? You’re obviously not from around here, so are you from Seattle, or LA?”
“Oh! Neither, actually. I—”
“So you didn’t hitchhike here?”
Ginsberg shook his head.
“And you’re not one of those Wolf’s Landing people, either?”
Yikes. He’d read that this guy didn’t have the best customer service, but this was getting downright uncomfortable. “Would that be a problem if I was?”
Derrick shrugged. “Their money’s as good as anyone else’s, last I checked.” He paused, peering at Ginsberg through eyes narrowed nearly to slits. “You do have money, don’t you? Well, you’re not a hitchhiker, so you must.”
“I am so lost right now, dude. I feel like I’m missing an entire line of thought from you here.”
“That’s how I feel about your hair. What is that, some new kinda mullet? How come it’s long on top but shaved on the sides? Your razor run out of batteries?” He gestured to his own utilitarian hairstyle.
Ginsberg ran his hand self-consciously through his ’do and spat out, “Hardi-har-har. That’s rich coming from you, Mr. Lumberjack chic.”
“I am a lumberjack.”
“A lumberjack who also runs a B&B?” Ginsberg teased, and realized he really was teasing. He liked this guy.
“Would that be a problem if I was?” Derrick mimicked, his imitation of Ginsberg’s voice all high and squeaky.
Okay, maybe “liked” was a bit premature. Ginsberg scowled. He didn’t have to take this shit. He wasn’t homeless . . . at least not exactly. He still had options, anyway.
“Sorry,” Derrick said, and he did have a genuinely chastened expression on his dumb rugged face. “I’m pretty bad with people.”
“Says the man working in the hospitality industry . . .” Ginsberg sighed. He turned, pointing the soggy denim sticking to his ass toward the heat of the fire. “But apology accepted.”
“Okay, well, the way I see it is, you’ve got a pretty, uh, distinct look. I figured you were either a crusty hitchhiker type, from Seattle in other words, or that this whole thing—” he gestured vaguely at Ginsberg, which Ginsberg took as a reference to his sense of style “—is some kind of ironic fashion statement. Which would mean you were here working on Wolf’s Landing. So, Seattle or LA,” he concluded.
“That’s a pretty common misconception, actually. A good portion of the production staff hasn’t even seen California. Me, I’m from all sorts of places—”
“So you are one of those Wolf’s Landing types.”
“Why didn’t you say so in the first place, then?”
“I dunno. You were giving off those ‘kill all outsiders’ vibes everybody on the crew’s always complaining about.”
“Oh for God’s sake.” Derrick rolled his eyes. “Just because we don’t like your big-city fair-trade all-organic diet fads and your packs of wild paparazzi roaming our streets doesn’t mean any of us wanna kill you.”
“That’s what I’m always trying to tell everyone else working the show. You know, stop acting like an outsider, and people will stop treating you like one. That’s my philosophy.” His chest had puffed up like a preening bird at that last bit, and he coughed, embarrassed. “But the way you were looking at me there for a couple minutes, I was starting to wonder if I was wrong.”
“Well, you’re not. So you gonna check in, or what?” For a second, Derrick’s suspicious expression switched to wide-eyed and startled—almost adorably open—but then he shook his head and everything was back to normal. Except for the little bit of ruddiness in his cheeks. “Whole place is empty as of this morning, so you got your pick of the rooms.” He seemed almost mad now, but Ginsberg got the sense it wasn’t with him. Well, who wouldn’t be mad about having a failing business? “Price is sixty a night, but I can do two-fifty a week or six hundred a month if you’re looking for something long term.”
Which was exactly why Ginsberg had moved out of his roommate’s chic, pricey downtown loft and come here instead. Bad reviews or no, the Bayview B&B was a cheap, local roof over his head until he could get this cast off and back to work . . . if his job would even still be available to him then.
“And you’ll cook me breakfast every morning?” he asked, trying to make his voice optimistic in the hopes that the rest of him would follow.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Derrick replied darkly.
“Does that apply to my wish for a hair dryer, too?”
Derrick’s reaction surprised him: the morose looking guy cracked a smile. “Don’t worry your fluffy duckling head, kid. I’m sure my mom has one lying around here somewhere. Curling iron too, if you want one.”
Ginsberg, feeling infinitely more comfortable with Derrick by now, just stuck out his tongue.
What the hell did you just do? Derrick thought as he lugged Ginsberg’s duffel bag up the stairs, leading him to one of the B&B’s single rooms all the way up on the third floor. The attic, really, though it’d been converted to three guest rooms for as long as he could remember. It was drafty and the windows were small and the roof was low, and maybe Ginsberg would decide that a three-story walk-up to shit accommodations wasn’t worth it and would just leave. Because yeah, Derrick could use the money, but not this way, not right after he’d decided to shut the place down. He was about to implode from the twin forces of regret and self-recrimination.
“You don’t get your own bathroom,” he said as he squinted and fumbled to stick the old skeleton key in the smallest room’s lock. He hadn’t been up here in at least six months, and he’d frankly forgotten how dark the hallway was with only a tiny attic window at one end. Somehow all three hall lights had burnt out. He’d have to fix that ASAP. Sure, he wanted the kid gone, but he didn’t want a lawsuit from the kid breaking his other arm tripping in the dark. “But since this place is empty ’n likely to stay that way, it’s pretty much a nonissue. My room’s on the ground floor, and I got my own bathroom, so we shouldn’t cross paths naked at any point.”
Which was too bad, because bad haircut or no, that see-through wifebeater and those skinny jeans didn’t leave much of Ginsberg’s body to the imagination, even in the too-dim hallway, and Derrick liked what he saw. Liked it a lot. Especially that perky little bubble butt—
And that kind of thinking was exactly why he was in this fucking mess. Less than an hour ago he’d been at peace with his decision to finally give up on the Bayview B&B, but one soaking wet outfit later, he was taking on a long-term lodger.
He was never going to be rid of this place. This lodestone around his neck, heavy with guilt and failure and grief.
He shouldered the sticky door open and led Ginsberg inside, flipping on the light switch to augment the thin sun from the low attic windows, and downright disappointed to find it working.
With Ginsberg’s LA/Seattle fashion sense, he looked completely out of place in the room, which was done up in Derrick’s mother’s down-home decorating style: all floral wallpaper and handmade quilts on the bed and hazy watercolor art hangings. Derrick handed him the key and gestured around the room. “You gotcher bed, TV, telephone—long-distance calls are extra—uh, and there’s a closet . . .”
“It looks great,” Ginsberg said, dripping with what was shaping up to be trademark optimism.
And lying, obviously.
“We’ll see if you’re still saying that tomorrow morning, after a night on this mattress,” Derrick muttered. The thing hadn’t been replaced in at least fifteen years. “Also the windows are painted shut to help with the draft. Sorry they only come up to your knees, but this used to be the attic.”
Ginsberg dropped onto the end of his narrow bed, yanking his ankle-high boots off and making himself at home, not even bothering to ask for a different room despite knowing the whole place was empty. It made Derrick anxious. This was not how today was supposed to go, not at all.
“You talk like you’re trying to convince me not to stay here,” Ginsberg said, peeling off his socks and wiggling his toes.
Now there was a thought. Just because Derrick had agreed in a moment of weakness to allow the hot city boy to stay here long-term didn’t mean he actually had to live with the consequences of his decision for anywhere near that amount of time. All he had to do was convince Ginsberg of what this morning’s couple had already discovered: that even a week in the Bayview B&B was too long. And for that, all Derrick had to be was his usual charming, competent self.
And if that failed, well, then he’d just have to man the hell up and tell Ginsberg to leave.
He could do that, right?
Mind decided, he shut the kid in his dark little room and left him alone to stew.
Trying not to look too carefully at the claustrophobic little space Derrick had dumped him in, Ginsberg finished stripping off his wet clothes, then rooted in his duffel for the plastic bag he’d been using to cover his cast in the shower—which, hey, was wrapped around his old roommate’s blow-dryer. Ginsberg definitely hadn’t packed that, and it made him grin to think of his roommate slipping the going-away present into his bag.
He grabbed the blow-dryer and his toiletries kit, secured the plastic bag on his arm with a rubber band, and then streaked naked down the gloomy hall to the bathroom—he was too stiff and tired to bother putting on clean clothes just to take them off again ten seconds later, and he was alone up here, after all. And no wonder why, he thought as he nearly went flying over the edge of the worn hall runner in the dimness.
And then he nearly went flying over the edge of the tub when the nice hot water he’d managed to coax out of the rattling old pipes went ice cold.
He’d barely turned the hot tap a fraction of an inch before it went burning hot.
Lovely. Back to cold, then. At least that wouldn’t cause any new injuries to contend with.
Five minutes later, teeth chattering and limbs stiff, Ginsberg clambered out of the ancient tub-shower and wrapped one of Derrick’s ancient shredded towels around his waist. Clearly, the taps here were going to take some getting used to from an operations standpoint. Either that, or Ginsberg was going to have to make a habit of taking baths. Quite possibly the Little House on the Prairie way, by lugging kettles of boiling water up two flights of stairs from the kitchen.
Well, he’d lived rougher than this. He’d make do. And having his own place, even one with a lumpy bed and barely any light and a malfunctioning shower, would always be better than returning to his couchsurfing habit.
Turned out there was one benefit to a shower without heat: no fog on the mirror. Nice not to wait around, or do that useless mirror-swipe thing that usually hindered more than it helped. Unabashedly posing for his reflection, he combed his wet hair back, then plugged in his blow-dryer, which set off an alarming amount of sparks until he yanked the plug free by the cord. Damn, it was a wonder this place hadn’t burned down before now. An incompetent cook and out-of-code electrical?
But hey, his own bathroom. That was a new perk, and a particular pleasure for someone of his physical configuration. Speaking of which, he was getting to the tail end of his two weeks between T shots. A little topical booster to take the edge off wouldn’t go amiss. He combed his hair—which had indeed looked remarkably birdlike before his shower but was distinctly better now, despite the lack of hot-air drying—then rooted through his toiletry bag for his T gel. A quick smear of that, and he moved on to washing his hands and face and brushing his teeth.
Funny how the simple joy of being able to brush his teeth never seemed to get old. He was definitely chilly, looking forward to getting dressed and possibly returning to Derrick’s fireplace, but the whole ritual of cleaning up and getting presentable made him feel so human and so at home that it was totally worth the cold.
He was still going to ask Derrick for some pointers on how to operate his shower, though. And maybe to get the wiring fixed before he started a fire outside the fireplace.
Derrick had left the third floor sooner than was probably polite. He hadn’t even told Ginsberg what time breakfast was in the morning. Ah well. Just one more reason on the big heaping pile of reasons for Ginsberg to bail.
Rudeness was one thing, but actual danger was another entirely, so after checking to ensure his kitchen wasn’t still on fire and making a halfhearted attempt to clean up the suppressant powder, Derrick grabbed the footstool still sitting in the middle of the kitchen, and headed to the supply closet to dig up his toolbox, a dusty old box of lightbulbs, and his headlamp.
Hopefully all those dark fixtures were just burnt-out bulbs. Or at least nothing more serious than a busted fuse—that he could fix in minutes. But worn-out wiring would at best be hours of work and at worst beyond his skill set. And he couldn’t afford an electrician; if it was something he couldn’t fix, he’d have to move Ginsberg down to the much more hospitable second floor.
Ginsberg’s door was half-open when Derrick got up to the third-floor hallway, but he didn’t allow himself to think about what Ginsberg might be doing in there. Or to say hello. He wanted him gone, after all, not getting friendly. Besides, Ginsberg was being awfully quiet. Maybe he was sleeping.
Instead he flipped off the hall light switch, plunked down the footstool, strapped on his headlamp, and unscrewed the first dark bulb from its fixture. Shook it by his ear and let out a relieved sigh when the broken filament rattled inside. He climbed off the stool to grab a bulb, then climbed back up to screw it in. Climbed down again to turn on the light switch, and let out another relieved sigh when the new bulb glowed bright. Perfect. No spending money he didn’t have. No making Ginsberg more comfortable.
He was halfway through replacing the second bulb when he heard water running in the bathroom. Just a trickle—the sink, then. Not the shower. Which explained the lack of noise coming from Ginsberg’s room. He climbed up the stool with the second bulb, then climbed down when he was done screwing it in.
Just then the bathroom door opened, and a very not dressed Ginsberg took two steps, saw Derrick, and froze like a startled rabbit.
“Uh.” Ever so slowly, he clutched at the too-small towel slung low on his waist, too late for Derrick to miss the peek of dark hair trailing down from his navel.
“Uh,” Derrick parroted back, feeling about as stunned as Ginsberg looked.
But then the moment seemed to pass—for Ginsberg, anyway. He smiled, all the tension draining from his posture and expression, and said, not worried exactly but clearly exploratory, “Guess I should’ve brought a spare change of clothes in with me, huh?”
“Uh,” Derrick said again, because his mind was still way too busy processing the fact that he was suddenly rock fucking hard for a rooster-head city boy. And he was standing in a dim hallway clutching a lightbulb like an idiot while his unwanted guest was grinning at him without shame, with . . . was that amusement?
And sure, why not amusement? Because Derrick’s eyes kept trying to politely slide off of Ginsberg’s body but somehow kept sliding back onto it instead, and though he knew he was licking his lips he couldn’t stop himself, and what the hell did Ginsberg have to be ashamed of anyway? His body was enviously hard and lean, muscles glistening and small dark nipples peaked after the shower he must’ve taken. Writhing, monochromatic tattoos covered his smooth skin from his collarbones down to his hands—or what Derrick could see of it, anyway, around the cast going palm to elbow. Derrick studied the tattoos for a moment before his gaze was drawn to the deep brown, half-curled hair that trailed from Ginsberg’s navel to the edge of his towel. Not even the strangely familiar twin scars seamed down either side of his chest detracted from how hot he was. And definitely not his cocky, confident smile as he watched Derrick uselessly trying to get himself back together.
“You need something?” Ginsberg finally asked.
“No! I’ll— I’ll just—” Derrick waved helplessly toward the stairs.
“I didn’t say you had to go.” Ginsberg’s dark eyes twinkled. “Just . . . avert your eyes.”
Derrick did him one better: he clapped a palm right over both of them.
He heard Ginsberg’s laugh, then the sound of him unlocking his bedroom door and padding inside.
A couple minutes later, the door closed again. “Okay, I’m decent,” Ginsberg said, and when Derrick lowered his hand, Ginsberg was standing in front of him again, but now he had on a pair of jeans, his T-shirt tossed over one shoulder.
“Like my scars?” Ginsberg asked, gesturing to his chest, which Derrick thought he hadn’t been staring at too obviously, but apparently not. “Pretty badass, right? Definitely more badass than this gross burn.” He half turned, showing off a shiny web of skin over his shoulder blade. “Although with the burn scar, I got paid leave. Not so much with the other two. Man, it sucked having to take that much time off work.”
“What failing B&B did you wind up in that time?” Derrick asked. He’d meant it as a joke, but his mouth still felt completely disconnected from his brain, so it didn’t come out sounding funny at all.
“B&B?” Ginsberg faked an uproarious laugh. “What, you think I’ve always lived this good? No way. Back then I had to suck it up and stay in a youth hostel. Well, that and a couple weeks on my ex-girlfriend’s couch because even with a bit of bad blood between us at the time, she still couldn’t stand the thought of me recovering from major surgery in a room I was sharing with a couple of crusty Germans.” He curled his nose. “In hindsight, she was probably right. I’m lucky I didn’t get some terrible infection.”
Youth hostels? His ex-girlfriend’s couch? What about an apartment somewhere? Or his parents’ place? Any relative’s, come to think of it. Was he all by himself? Derrick’s resolve to just tell the guy to leave so he could close up shop like he’d planned wavered slightly.
“Yeah, uh.” He took in the dim hallway, walls desperate for a coat of paint, carpet thin, everything coated in a layer of dust. “Can’t promise you won’t get some terrible infection here, either.”
But Ginsberg just laughed, like Derrick was making a joke rather than a warning.
“I uh.” He pointed to the stairwell with the lightbulb in his hand. Two fresh bulbs out of three would have to do now: enough light to prevent an accident, enough dimness to feel grim. “I’ll leave you to it.” Whatever it was. Standing around looking way too hot for comfort, maybe. Or maybe being more comfortable in his skin than Derrick was. “Got things to do today, so you’re on your own. Better get an early night if you want a hot breakfast tomorrow, though. I don’t sleep in, and I don’t cater to people who do. I expect you downstairs at 6 a.m.”
If the lack of sunlight and fluffy bedding and hot water didn’t make Ginsberg check out soon, then hopefully an ass-crack of dawn wake-up call would. Kids these days were anything but early risers. Ginsberg probably rolled out of bed past noon, and stayed up well into the night. If that turned out to be the case, Derrick would have to make sure the after-hours noise rules were extra strictly enforced.
Maybe he wouldn’t have to tell Ginsberg to leave after all. Not like Derrick wasn’t a natural at being a shitty host. Even if he realized, as he gathered up his tools and step stool and headed down the stairs, that he was feeling pretty guilty at just the thought of doing bad on purpose.
But really, Ginsberg would be better off somewhere else. Somewhere with his own kind, who blow-dried their ridiculous haircuts and made stupid TV shows and didn’t wake up at the crack of dawn to chop wood. People who weren’t trying to run from their failures and their dead parents’ hopes and dreams.
For both their sakes, Ginsberg had to go.
Fortunately, Derrick had driven off plenty of guests in his time running the B&B, and that had been when he was trying to get them to stick around. He’d already been a jerk about breakfast, and room choices, and accidentally staring at Ginsberg’s half-naked body for at least a minute solid. The next step was easy: the one thing he never did when he actually wanted his guests to stay for their entire reservation. The one thing even a fuckup like Derrick had known would be kryptonite for his parents’ business.
Bring his mother’s dog home.
So while Ginsberg got the rest of the way dressed upstairs, Derrick grabbed the cordless phone in the sitting room to call up his dog sitter. Who was also, as it happened, his ex, an aging twink named Jim who Derrick had enjoyed regular weekend booty calls with all the way from their junior year of high school through to just a couple years ago. He’d always been way too theatrical and queeny for Derrick’s dating tastes—not that Derrick ever dated—but he’d been a staunchly loyal friend, even against all those asshole school bullies (Do you two queens share a room at the Bayview?), and he’d proven himself boyfriend material while helping Derrick pick up the pieces after his parents’ death. When the grief had eased up enough for Derrick to stop being so shamelessly clingy, though, it’d quickly become obvious to both of them that Jim was boyfriend material for somebody else.
But as much as Derrick wanted a clean break from the guy and to put the past in the past, Jim’s brief time as Derrick’s One and Only also meant he was also the only person in the world who could tolerate Derrick’s mother’s hateful Yorkshire terrier, Victoria. Which didn’t mean Victoria liked him—far from it, the dog absolutely despised him. But Jim loved Victoria. He probably also loved the fact that Victoria gave him an excuse to remain useful to—and therefore stay in touch with—Derrick.
He dialed, and Jim answered with a cheerful “Yello!” on the second ring.
“Dicky-doo!” Jim squealed. “Wasn’t expecting a call from you until Friday. What can I do you for?”
Derrick cleared his throat, flinching at the horrible pet name. “Uh, well, that’s the thing. I can actually come get Victoria early.”
“Oh no.” He could just hear Jim’s exaggerated pout. “Dicky, Dicky, Dicky. What did you do this time?”
“Probably a combination of things, but I doubt setting the kitchen on fire cooking breakfast helped.”
“On fire? Holy shit, are you okay? You didn’t burn the house down, did you?”
“Luckily, no. The new guy I got staying here was pretty good with a fire extinguisher and put it all out. Now I just have to clean up the mess.”
“You already have a new guest?” Jim asked. “I thought you said you were ready to take Victoria back?”
“Oh, I am.” That came out sounding slightly ominous, so Derrick coughed and added, “New guy’s long-term, so I didn’t want to leave Victoria with you all that time.” Another pause while he scrabbled for an excuse or explanation Jim would accept without asking too many questions. “I talked it over with him and he says he’s fine with it. He loves dogs.”
“Well, she’s your dog and it’s your decision, but can I just say, as someone who cares about you—”
“Nope. You can’t say anything. Especially not if you’re prefacing it with that gushy love talk. You want me to pick her up, or do you want to drop her off?”
“Oh, drop her off, definitely. I have got to see how ‘fine with it’ this guy is once he meets her.”
Derrick cast a look at the ceiling, where he could hear Ginsberg’s footfalls on the squeaky old floorboards two stories up. “I don’t know if you’ll get to meet him. I’m sure he’s just gonna want to stick to himself and get settled since it’s his first day n’all.”
“I’m willing to take the chance,” Jim replied, sounding a hell of a lot like he was smirking.
The old bird always did know him too damn well.
So that happened.
Standing there naked in front of Derrick, there’d been a moment, of course—one single familiar moment—where Ginsberg had feared for his safety. But it had come and gone awfully quick. Sure, Derrick was a big guy (though Ginsberg still would’ve bet a month’s lodging he could take him if not for the stupid cast), and he was a gruff bastard, but he wasn’t mean. And not entirely straight either, because there was absolutely no denying the way Derrick had been swallowing Ginsberg whole with his eyes. Not that Ginsberg planned to go there with him.
No matter how scruffy-flannel-wrapped-handsome he was.
Was lumberjack-chic a thing?
At least he’d been wearing a towel, so he still had a bit of privacy left. But if Derrick had figured out his scars, there were no guarantees he wasn’t going to spend the rest of their time together furiously pretending that it’d never happened; Ginsberg had been around more than his fair share of folks who got weird or flustered or awkward or uncomfortable or all of the above after learning he was trans.
Well, as ever, there was only one way to find out. Just because he had no intention of falling into bed with a guy who’d clearly been raised by the local wolf population—and maybe Derrick had no intention of falling into bed with him, either—that didn’t mean they couldn’t be social. Much as Ginsberg wasn’t looking forward to how their next meeting might go (please don’t be awkward please don’t be awkward please don’t be awkward), there was no way he’d be spending the next eight to twelve weeks it’d take for his arm to heal hiding in his tomb-like little room. He needed to stay active. Stay out there. Not being on set every day—with actors and PAs and makeup artists and craft-service workers all around—was going to suck, and getting lonely and depressed would in no way help his healing.
The degree to which his forced exile would suck, though, wasn’t entirely up to him. But until Hot and Grumpy proved otherwise, Ginsberg was choosing to believe their nearly nude encounter had changed nothing. So he put on his dry shirt, locked his bedroom door, and tramped down the stairs to the sitting room with its cozy fire.
Derrick was on the couch, half-asleep in front of the flickering television. He visibly startled when Ginsberg walked into the room.
“Thought you had things to do?” Ginsberg teased, testing the waters further by throwing himself down on the couch next to Derrick.
He felt sorry for saying it, even as a joke, when Derrick sniffed. “I am doing things. Watching TV is doing a thing.”
So he was going to be weird, then. Ginsberg’s chest tightened, but he stayed put. “Fair enough.” He shrugged, trying to defuse the tension. “Whatcha watching?”
“Some misery auction show. You know, bunch of asshole reality TV types all bid on some bankrupt dead person’s abandoned belongings for profit.”
Huh. Maybe not so weird? “Ugh.” Ginsberg scrunched his nose. “Just when I thought reality TV couldn’t get any more horrible.”
Derrick made no attempt to reply, but that was fine by Ginsberg. There was no uncomfortable silence in the world that a good rant couldn’t fill.
“Cheap-ass TV producers looking to make a quick buck for the least amount of investment cut out a bunch of jobs—including mine—from their productions, which, by the way, are staged as hell anyhow. Every one of these shows gets more and more outrageous and exploitative in an attempt to compete in an already saturated market.”
“Whoa now, son.” Derrick looked at him askance, eyebrows lifted. “Don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel.”
“Sorry,” Ginsberg said with a sheepish laugh.
On second glance, though, that eyebrow lift of Derrick’s seemed less judgmental or disbelieving than it was helplessly charmed.
So . . . no weirdness after all, then? Could he be that lucky?
“Don’t be,” Derrick said. “Losing your job because the industry’s changing . . . I get that. Trust me.”
“Forestry, right?” Ginsberg watched him out of the corner of one eye, for some reason too shy all of a sudden to turn and face him properly. “That must be tough.”
Derrick stared at the television. Grunted. Ginsberg started to think he would have to take the reins of their conversation again, but then Derrick spoke. “What about you? What job do you do down on Wolf’s Landing that you can’t do in reality TV? They don’t need people who do the clothes on reality TV? That can’t be right. Somebody gotta pick out them camouflage suits they wear on Duck Dynasty.”
Ginsberg smothered a grimace. God, what if he was one of those gay panic closeted types, looking at him like meat then turning around to beat the shit out of him on a dime? “What makes you think I do costume design?”
Now it was Derrick’s turn to look sheepish. “I don’t know. Your hair and your clothes and all that, I guess.”
Okay, so maybe closet-case homophobe was a little premature. Maybe just effemiphobic. Not so surprising in the timber trade, and Ginsberg could work with it. “I’m going to take that as a compliment,” he told Derrick pointedly. “But no, I don’t do costumes. Or makeup, before you suggest that. I’m a stunt performer.”
“A . . . What?”
“Have you seen Wolf’s Landing at all?”
Derrick shook his head.
Too bad Ginsberg wasn’t really comfortable enough with Derrick to talk about any of his female roles, because he’d done some pretty awesome, gory stunts on B-horror sets before he’d transitioned. Post-transition, he had plenty of dumb action movies under his belt, but the problem with those was that with so many big set pieces, it was hard for any of them to be truly memorable. So he defaulted to the biggest blockbuster he’d been in. He could work his way down from there. “How about Dead at Dawn?”
Derrick perked up. “Oh! Yeah, I saw that one. Not in 3D though. I hate that stuff.”
“Okay. Well, remember the scene where Romero corners that waiter at the Chinese restaurant because he knows the villain does business there? And the waiter gets spooked and tries to rabbit, but then the villain’s there too, and it looks like there’s gonna be a shoot-out, but then the waiter just starts throwing live seafood out of the restaurant’s tank?”
That got a laugh. “I do! And he tosses a fuckin’ king crab and Romero shoots it in midair like a skeet!”
“Right!” Ginsberg said, a laugh bubbling up in him, too. “Well, the crabs and lobsters being thrown were just props, but they filmed the scene with live seafood in the tank. They all had elastic bands on their pincers and everything, but the actor still didn’t want to stick his hand in the tank—or maybe it was the higher-ups saying he couldn’t because he didn’t have insurance for that kind of thing—so whatever, long story short is that was actually me doing the bits where the waiter dunks his hand. And let me tell you, pincers or no pincers, those fuckers’ shells are pretty goddamn sharp. And it was a saltwater tank, so it burned like a bitch the whole time.”
“I had no idea,” Derrick said, leaning forward, eyes locked on Ginsberg’s. “I figured they just did all that with computer animation nowadays.”
“Computer animation’s expensive, man. It’s still cheaper to let crazy shits like me give it a go.” He grinned.
“What else you done? Anything I’ve seen? Is that how you broke your arm?”
Ginsberg practically bounced in his seat at discovering how to crack Derrick’s crusty exterior. His mind raced through his movies, trying to find something similarly violent and badass and absurd to impress him with, but then the doorbell rang.
Goddamn it! Derrick couldn’t believe it, but he was actually regretting asking Jim to bring the dog home. Ginsberg was proving to be far less of a big-city nancy boy than Derrick had first assumed, and there were so many things Derrick found himself wanting to ask. About his other stunt jobs. About how he’d broken his arm. About working with various actors and actresses. About if he had any other interesting scars that maybe Derrick hadn’t seen in that upstairs hallway.
And instead, he was flashing an apologetic smile as the doorbell rang for the third fucking time.
“I’m coming!” he roared over the doorbell’s fourth ring, getting up to answer the damn thing.
He opened the door a fraction.
“Dick!” Jim squealed. Victoria let out a peal of barks.
Derrick extended his arms, flinching in expectation as he did so.
“Aw, can’t I at least come in?” Jim hugged Victoria closer, making it clear he didn’t intend to hand her over unless he got his invitation. Victoria growled and yipped and squirmed in his arms, little nails clawing at his chest.
“Really not a good time,” he said through his teeth. He most definitely didn’t want Jim meeting Ginsberg. Not now, not ever. The two of them together, chatterbugs that they both were, would no doubt gossip him to death.
Jim scowled and sniffed. “You’re no fun. Well, see if I dog-sit for you again!” He pushed Victoria against Derrick’s chest in a huff, and stormed off down the drive to where his silver Prius was parked.
He’d be back. He loved to make a show of being offended by Derrick’s multitudes of slights and wrongdoings, but he always came back in the end.
In the meantime—
“Fuck!” Derrick yelped as Victoria’s tiny terrier teeth sank into the fleshy base of his thumb. Lightly, not enough to draw blood, but he still dropped her in surprise.
She scurried down the hall, yapping and nails scrabbling, heading straight for the living room.
A moment later, Ginsberg let out a bloodcurdling scream.
Derrick, feeling guilty even though everything was clearly going according to plan, made a run for it.
When he burst into the room, Ginsberg was standing on the couch, face contorted in exaggerated fear, while Victoria hopped around on the floor at his feet, barking and growling but too small to reach him.
Derrick leaned against the doorframe and smirked. “So you work a job where you have to put your hand into tanks of king crabs and probably get lit on fire and jump off of buildings and shit, but you’re scared of a little dog?”
“That is not a dog!” Ginsberg exclaimed, and with his flair for drama, it was no wonder he was on TV. “It’s a rat! A lab experiment gone wrong! A furry demon! A chupacabra!”
Derrick cracked a smile. “She is a Yorkshire terrier. Her name is Victoria Beckham.”
Ginsberg stopped squealing. “Her . . . name . . .” he echoed, and Derrick could see the exact moment of recognition. “Victoria Beckham,” he said to himself, and snorted, and then began to laugh. He hopped down from the couch, and crouched to Victoria’s level as she jumped from side to side, still yapping away. “I can see the resemblance,” he said, and actually reached out to pat Victoria’s tiny vicious head with the curled, casted fingers of his bad arm. Victoria took a leap and bit into his cast, then fell to the floor, stunned.
Then she rushed forward, took a cautious sniff at Ginsberg’s still-extended hand, and licked his fingers.
Derrick gaped at them both. “My, uh . . .” He blinked as Ginsberg scooped Victoria up with his good arm and settled back onto the sofa again with her in his lap. She circled twice, then lay down, her beady eyes half-closed in either bliss or suspicion. “My mother named her.”
Still scratching behind Victoria’s ears, Ginsberg chuckled. “I thought maybe a woman had a hand in that. Or an effeminate man, possibly. Who was the guy at the door, anyway?”
Gulp. Well, worst-case scenario, Ginsberg would turn out to be an unlikely homophobe, and if so, he’d surely move out. Which was what Derrick was aiming for here, wasn’t it? Besides, he couldn’t imagine what kind of mental acrobatics Ginsberg would’ve had to do to interpret Derrick’s behavior in the hallway earlier today as anything but sexual interest. Curiosity, sure, but curiosity didn’t make a guy lick his lips while he was staring. So he was pretty sure Ginsberg was safe to tell. “He’s my ex.”
Ginsberg nodded once, but didn’t otherwise react. Derrick wasn’t sure whether he was relieved by that or disappointed. “Are you sure he didn’t name the dog?”
“Nah. That was my mom.”
“Oh! So it’s her dog, then?”
The air in Derrick’s lungs froze. “Was,” he corrected, hoping Ginsberg would let the matter lie.
He did, although there was no mistaking the pity on his face. Well, let him jump to conclusions if he wanted to. Derrick wouldn’t spill any more details. Hadn’t spilled any details at all, really. He could have just adopted Victoria after his parents moved to Australia or something. Or maybe their theoretical nursing home didn’t allow pets. Plenty of possibilities other than the sob story of them being dead.
“Did she name you ‘Dick,’ too?” Ginsberg asked at last, his eyes twinkling with mischief. His expression, and the fact that he had Victoria settled in his lap, made him look like a hipster Bond villain.
“She didn’t name me Dick,” Derrick spat. “She named me Derrick.” He sighed, and added in a mumble, “She just called me Dick as a nickname.”
Derrick’s mouth pressed into a line. “Yeah, yeah, get it out of your system. My mom’s nickname for me was—”
“Dick and Vick!” Ginsberg chortled. “You rhyme! That’s so cute!”
“. . . a slang word for penis,” Derrick finished, too surprised to stop himself. He bristled. “And hey, like you can talk! The fuck kind of name is Ginsberg, anyway? Giiinsberg.”
Ginsberg pursed his lips. “Ah, yes, that.” He thought the matter over a moment, then said carefully, “Well, I happen to have had the unusual opportunity to pick my own name.” His lazy mouth twisted into half a smile. “Sadly, that opportunity came in my early twenties when I was all rebellious and angry and queer. Thus, Ginsberg.”
That explanation . . . raised more questions than it answered, actually. Derrick gave him a blank look.
“After Allen Ginsberg?”
Derrick shook his head.
“Poet? Gay? Influential part of the Beat movement? James Franco played him in a half-shitty-half-amazing biopic? No?”
Again, Derrick shook his head.
“Man, Ginsberg’s poetry got me through some tough times growing up queer. Did you have something like that?”
Derrick scoffed like the very concept was absurd. Then he changed the subject. “What do you mean, you had the opportunity to pick your name? How come? Your parents saddle you with a stupid one? Stupider than Ginsberg, that is?”
Ginsberg’s mouth twisted. His hand moved a little more rapidly through Victoria’s fur. He paused. Put back his shoulders. “You could kind of say that. Well, no, it wasn’t inherently stupid, but it was all wrong for me. It was . . . a girl’s name.” He went silent then, staring right into Derrick’s eyes like he’d just dropped a bombshell.
Ohhh. “So I’m guessing,” Derrick said delicately, “by the way you’re looking at me, it wasn’t like that song ‘A Boy Named Sue’?”
“I’m transgender,” Ginsberg said, calm and clear.
Suddenly, Derrick remembered where he’d last seen scars like the ones on Ginsberg’s chest: on Jim’s friend Aiden, who’d introduced himself as, “FTM, do you have a fucking problem with that?”
Suddenly, too, Ginsberg’s lack of family, lack of a home to return to, made horrible sense as well. Someone somewhere had abandoned him, kicked him out, left him in the rain for being who he was, the same way Derrick had always feared his father might do to him if he ever learned the truth.
There was no way in hell Derrick could tell him he had to leave now. Because dollars to donuts, more than one person the kid had loved and trusted had told him the same thing. And after a life like that, could Derrick blame Ginsberg if he thought Derrick was kicking him out because he was queer?
Even if Ginsberg didn’t jump to that obvious conclusion, Derrick knew how much it hurt to be rejected. He couldn’t inflict that kind of pain on this relentlessly optimistic kid.
He also couldn’t keep on like this, limping along and ruining his parents’ reputation, driving their one-time dream as deep into the ground as their bodies were. Derrick needed to shut the B&B down, and for that Ginsberg needed to go. And if Derrick couldn’t in good conscience tell him to find new lodging, then he really would have to . . . convince Ginsberg to leave of his own accord.
As guilty as that made him feel, it was for the best. For the both of them.
“So, um . . .” Ginsberg’s tentative expression, brave but wincing as he awaited Derrick’s response, made Derrick’s heart pound, made him desperate to make this right, even for just a little while.
“My parents are dead,” he blurted out, wanting to offer something in kind. A secret for Ginsberg, who’d trusted Derrick with his own. “This used to be their B&B. And now it’s mine.”
Ginsberg smiled. The thankfulness in his expression was unmistakable, even to a guy like Derrick who was as far from touchy-feely as you could get.
And Derrick, lack of touchy-feelyness be damned, smiled right back.