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