Love and Other Hot Beverages
After a rough breakup, Todd Addison wants time alone to grieve. While still dreaming of winning back his ex’s love, he moves across the country and finds work with a construction company. The last thing he needs is the cute office boy developing a crush on him, especially since he’s back in the closet.
Sebastián Nye can’t help feeling sorry for the obviously brokenhearted Todd. Though rebuffed repeatedly, Sebby chisels away at Todd’s resistance, determined to help him forget—a task potentially beyond anyone’s capabilities. He never meant to fall for the poor guy, but he does. Hard.
Desperate to hold on to Todd, Sebby hatches a sneaky plot guaranteed to end Todd's heartbreak—if Todd doesn't bail and ruin everything. Just when things can’t get more complicated, Todd’s ex wants him back. And Sebby’s abusive ex is just waiting to catch Sebby alone. Todd and Sebby must decide what’s worth fighting for, what’s worth sacrifice, and what’s worth compromise, or their relationship will begin and end with a broken heart.
Winner of the 30th Annual Lambda Literary Award for Gay Romance!
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:emotional abuse, explicit violence
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: abuse, acceptance, addiction, age gap, alcoholism, angst, coming out, commitment, depression, disability / disfigurement, domestic violence, family, gender expression, homophobia / transphobia, illness / injury, interracial/multicultural, stalking / harassment, trust issues, workplace romance
Chapter 1: Office Boy
The office boy smiled at Todd. “That coffee’s shit.”
Hard hat under one arm, Todd stared at the coffeepot in front of him. He waited impatiently for the drip to stop, conscious of several teammates waiting their turns. They jostled one another as they laughed and joked. The men with their hard hats seemed to take up more space than necessary in the confines of the mobile office. Todd itched to get his coffee and get out into the fresh air.
“You look like someone who would appreciate good coffee,” the boy continued, and Todd knew a fishing query when he heard one. What the boy meant was, You’re gay, aren’t you? Because everyone knew that gays liked gay coffee. Todd tried to remember the boy’s name. They all called him office boy.
“I like shit,” Todd said with a feral grin. “Keeps me awake. Keeps me from falling off buildings.” Todd was not interested in having his cover blown. Passing for straight among a gang of construction workers was easy enough if you watched yourself, and that meant not watching any cute office boys. He reached for a cup, but the boy handed him one first, his tanned fingers brushing against Todd’s.
He’s shorter than I am. Not many guys were. The one who had broken his heart had been four inches taller than Todd.
“I know a good place to get real, honest, quality coffee, not the sludge they keep here,” the boy continued. Apparently, Todd’s feral grin was not scary enough or het enough. “I don’t mean like Starbucks—a local coffeehouse. It’s real nice, lo prometo.”
“I’m allergic to coffeehouses,” Todd said. “Step inside one and I’ll need hospitalization.”
It was in a coffeehouse that his heart had been broken.
The cozy New York coffeehouse had seemed innocuous enough. And then there had been one Vivian Oscar Stanton-Owens, a young man of only eighteen who had so adorably crushed on Todd. Todd should have known better—he had known better—but, flattered by the attention, had thought, Give the kid a thrill, and then had fallen for him like an idiot. There in that cozy coffeehouse, Todd had lost his heart and had it handed back to him like so much old coffee grounds.
Todd poured, staring at the brown liquid and not allowing his eyes to flick toward the boy even for a split second, definitely not noticing his dark-sienna hair and how it curled against the back of his neck.
“I’ll bring you some good coffee tomorrow,” the boy offered. “I only buy fair-trade beans. I grind them fresh each time. And I use spring water and a French press.”
That’s all I need, another kid with a crush. “I prefer this shit.” Todd threw the coffee back like a slug of whiskey, scalding his entire mouth and throat so that he was unlikely to taste anything for days. Adjusting his goggles over his eyeglasses, he turned and exited the mobile office with a manly, het swagger. He forced his mind away from the lingering impression of alluring deep-brown eyes.
Atop the Gimondi Brothers’ scaffolding, Todd indulged his favorite fantasy. Looking out over the ground below, he imagined a slight figure in bright colors picking his way across the lot, shading his eyes with his hand, squinting up at the crew. In Todd’s mind the light gathered around this figure, haloing the white-blond hair, and Todd imagined how his heart would seize up, how he would trip over himself getting to the ground. He would fling his hard hat aside, run to the figure and halt, perhaps an arm’s-length away, noting the look of mingled hope and apprehension on his—on Vivian’s face.
Todd would have to swallow hard. “You’re here . . . You came all the way to Denver?” Viv would nod and smile, and Todd would clasp Viv to himself, and the hell with all construction workers and all heterosexuals and all the world, because Todd would kiss Vivian in full view against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
Some mornings later, the crew gathered around a hole while the foreman decided what to do. They stood, a study in casualness, arms crossed or hands on hips. Howmany laborers does it take to look at a hole? Todd wondered. He dragged his eyes from the dirt to gaze at the mountains. He was still a flatlander, easily mesmerized.
“Good morning, men.”
Todd turned to see that the office boy had approached on silent cat feet. A chorus of unintelligible monosyllables answered.
As he unscrewed the lid of a thermos, the boy piped up: “Payroll’s done early, so pick up your checks at lunch if you want.” Cheers sounded. Gus, a grizzled man next to Todd, clapped the boy on the back, causing him to spill whatever he was pouring into the lid-slash-cup. The boy held the dripping cup away from himself, letting the liquid dribble onto the dirt. The aroma of good coffee reached Todd.
“Oh, sorry, Sebby,” Gus said.
Sebby. That’s his name. What kind of name is that?
“It’s okay. Here . . . hold this?” Sebby offered the thermos and cup to Todd.
Annoyed, Todd accepted them. Sebby pulled a bandanna from his pocket, then took hold of Todd’s wrist and wiped the cup. Sebby’s fingers pressed firmly on his skin. Todd ground his teeth, not wanting to pull away and get coffee-splashed. After wiping every possible microbe of coffee from the outside of the cup, Sebby let go, fingers stroking Todd’s wrist in a familiar manner as they slid off. “Try it.”
“You letting him try your private stash? How come he rates?” Gus laughed.
“You’re welcome to try it too, Gus,” Sebby offered.
It did smell tempting. “Give it a go, Gus. Good coffee gives me the runs.” Todd pushed the coffee at Gus, turned, and stalked off. He imagined he could feel Sebby’s eyes on him and found himself trying to remember which jeans he’d donned that morning. He had to fight to keep from touching himself to check.
“Yeah! Paid early! Office boy does it again! Hand me that three-quarters,” Dean, one of the pipe fitters, said.
“He actually does the payroll?” Todd asked, passing him the requested tool.
“Yeah. Whatcha think he does?” Dean grunted with the effort of tightening the bolt, lying in an awkward position, his arm extended to reach into a tight spot.
“I thought he just handed out the checks.”
“Naw. He’s an accountant or some shit.”
An accountant. If that was true, then Sebby had to be older than Todd had first thought. If he had an associate’s degree, he’d have to be around twenty. “How long has he worked here?”
Dean shrugged. “He was here when I got here, and I been here off and on for two years. Another year and I’ll make journeyman.”
Around twenty-two, then.
The lunch siren sounded, and the crew swarmed down to the ground. Some men headed to the local diner, while others ate in their cars or near the scaffolding or sprawled on the ground. Todd sat in his rusty old pickup with the windows rolled down. Since the Vivian incident, he’d been living with his older brother, Lloyd, and his sister-in-law had packed a lunch for him. He unwrapped it and opened a book: The Inimitable Jeeves. There was nothing better than a Wodehouse book when one needed cheering. The breeze ruffled his sweat-damp hair as he chuckled at the exploits of Bertie Wooster.
A shadow fell across his book. Todd glanced up.
“Coffee?” Sebby asked. He leaned his forearms on the open window so that his hands were inside Todd’s pickup. One hand held a styrofoam cup.
Todd’s smile emptied itself. “I told you I’m allergic to the good stuff.”
“I know. I brought you the bad stuff.” Sebby wiggled the cup a little, and Todd took it.
“Oh . . . well . . . thanks.” He sniffed it and grimaced. The earlier whiff of Sebby’s quality beverage made the office shit smell even worse.
“You like to read,” Sebby observed.
Todd nodded. “And you’re blocking my light.”
“What is it you’re reading?”
“A spy novel. W.E.B. Griffin.” Todd knew W.E.B. Griffin to be a manly, het writer because his brother read him. Todd took a gulp of coffee and couldn’t help making a face.
“You take it black, don’t you? I’ve never seen you put anything in it.”
“It tastes more gawdawful than usual. But I like it that way,” Todd hastened to add.
Sebby leaned in, and Todd leaned away. “You don’t like that coffee,” Sebby said in a conspiratorial tone. “Taste mine. I won’t tell.”
Hello, innuendo. The corners of Todd’s mouth twitched, and he forced himself to frown. The boy’s voice was as smooth and sweet as café au lait.
Todd wondered if Sebby tasted like his good coffee.
“What kind of name is ‘Sebby’?” He put as much scorn into his tone as he could muster.
“Sebastián. My momma was Mexican. But my dad thinks ‘Sebby’ is easier to say.”
“Sebastián,” Todd repeated, and his tongue went numb. It was a beautiful name, and Todd wanted to say so. Instead, he drank his coffee.
“What kind of name is ‘Todd’?” Sebby shifted, turning to the side and tilting his head back. Sunlight fell on his face, and Todd saw that his brown irises were sparked with tiny gold flecks.
“It’s, ah, I don’t know. It means ‘fox.’”
“Fox on the run.” Sebby flashed Todd a smile before turning and walking away. Todd spent the rest of his lunch wondering what that remark might mean.
Chapter 2: Love Is Gross
“Uncle Todd? Why don’t you like girls?”
The voice drifted down out of the semidarkness, and Todd gazed up at the slats of the bunk above him. The youngest of Lloyd’s three sons had been kind enough to evict his stuffed animals from his bottom bunk in order to accommodate his unfortunate uncle, and these after-dark heart-to-hearts were becoming habitual. “I like girls fine. My best friend is a girl.”
“Yeah, that girl that was here with you.” Holly, Todd’s best chum since they had both fallen in love with the same guy in ninth grade, had accompanied Todd and provided moral support on the road trip from New York to Denver. Quitting a job and running away was bad enough, but if not for Holly, he didn’t know what he might have done.
“But you don’t date girls. You date boys. Maybe if you dated girls, you wouldn’t have got your heart broken.”
Todd chuckled. “Ryan, I assure you that men who like women get their hearts broken just as often. It’s a part of life, and rather unavoidable.”
“Well, I’m not gonna get mine broken. I’m never gonna be in love. Love is gross.”
“An elegant philosophy and one that I cannot condemn.”
Todd crouched alone, goggles atop his hard hat on his head, pretending to wipe dirt from his eyes. On a construction site, no one saw this as either suspicious or unusual. Unfortunately, Todd’s hands were grimy, and he was quite handily accomplishing the supposed cause of his pretended activity.
The gentle voice made him glance up. Of course it would be Sebby standing over him, offering a cup and an expression of detached concern. Todd grabbed the cup and gulped. A rich and aromatic liquid went down his throat before his sense of smell alerted him. “Motherfuck,” he sputtered.
“I sneaked the good stuff on you, yeah. You gonna knock me down?”
Todd shook his head and went back to wiping his eyes.
“There’s an eyewash in the office.”
“No . . . thanks . . .” He gulped the coffee again and grimaced. Swinging the cup in an arc, he threw the rest of it out, painting a parabola on the ground in front of him.
Sebby tsked. “What is it with you and the coffee? Was your last boyfriend Juan Valdez?”
Todd raised his head and glared at him.
Sebby tsked again. “You’re a mess. Come on into the office, Todd. That’s an order.” He turned and walked off. After a moment, Todd got to his feet, his knees creaking like a ninety-year-old’s. He hurried to catch up with Sebby, who paced across the site.
“Fox on the run,” Sebby said.
“You’re on the run from a love affair gone bad.”
A consternated Todd had no reply.
“You don’t have to talk about it. It’s just, um, you’re pretty pitiful, you know.”
Pretty pitiful, Todd thought, privately enjoying the alliteration.
They reached the mobile office, and in they went, the screen door banging behind them, and they were alone.
“Clean up.” Sebby pointed at the sink. “I’ll get the eyewash.”
Todd set aside his hard hat, goggles, and eyeglasses. He tore off a fistful of paper towels and wetted them in the sink. The cold water refreshed him as he buried his face in the wet towels and wiped away the grime.
“Lean back over the counter.”
Todd jumped. He hadn’t heard him approach. “What?” He began finger-combing his hair. I have helmet hair. Sweaty helmet hair. And that makes my hair look a dark, icky blond, and why do I care what I look like? He gave his hair a final fluff. “What?” he repeated.
Sebby tossed a cloth towel to Todd, raised a plastic bottle, and shook it. “Eyewash. Lean back over the counter.”
Todd reached for the eyewash. “I’ll do it myself.”
Sebby held the eyewash out of reach. “You can’t. Lean back.”
“How do you mean?” Discomposed, Todd did not know how he could lean backward over the narrow counter.
“On your side. We’ll get this eye, then the other. The wash needs to be able to run out, and you don’t want it all over you. Move over.” Todd did so. Sebby washed his hands, snatched the towel from Todd, and demonstrated the correct position, leaning half over the counter, pillowing his head on the folded towel. “See? Now you.”
Todd did as instructed. Sebby rested a cool hand on Todd’s brow, smoothing back his hair. Todd shivered and closed his eyes.
“Hello, Toddfox, eyewash requires eyes to be open?”
Todd opened his eyes. Sebby’s face was very close. Deep-brown eyes looked into Todd’s blue ones. “How old are you?” Todd asked.
Sebby straightened. “Twenty-five.”
“I know; I should staple my driver’s license to my forehead. And you’re twenty-three until September twenty-second, and your middle name is Marvin. Now, ready?” Pressing gently on Todd’s head, he bent over him again and brought the plastic bottle close. “Open wide.” Having said this, he thumbed Todd’s eyelid and released the eyewash. Todd flinched, but the wash flowed soothingly into and out of his eye.
Sebby released him, and Todd blinked. “You snooped in the office records,” Todd accused.
“I am the office. Please turn over.”
Bemused, Todd shifted to his other side. The angle was different, and Sebby pressed up against Todd’s back to again smooth his hair away and direct the flow of the eyewash. Todd lay there, all awkwardness. How long had it been since anyone had touched him with affection? You’re exaggerating. Ryan hugs you. Donna is always taking your arm or ruffling your hair. Jesus, even Lloyd’s been known to do the macho shoulder squeeze.
“You’re done. Better?”
Todd wiped his face with the towel and straightened, blinked myopically. “I believe so. Thank you.”
“Your eyes are red.”
“Coffee. Will you please try my coffee? I’ve been making it for you every day, and you keep turning me down and dumping it in the dirt. And it’s expensive stuff, and I labor over it.”
“I tried it,” Todd protested, adjusting his eyeglasses, followed by his goggles. “It didn’t suit me.”
Todd hesitated. He couldn’t remember why he had declined in the first place. “Very well. In my weakened state, I cannot refuse.”
Chapter 3: Days Since Last Accident
Something caught Todd’s eye, pulling his gaze from the mountains. Far below, he spied Sebby emerging from the mobile office, and his heart gave an unfamiliar little skip-hop. It was break time. Some of the men preferred to rest where they were, others headed for the ground. Todd took his time descending from the partially completed building.
“Hey, French Press,” he said in greeting as he reached the ground.
Sebby grinned, and a tiny crease with a perfect pinprick appeared in the middle of his left cheek. He has a dimple! Todd stared as Sebby poured from a thermos and pressed the cup into Todd’s hands.
“Well? Are you going to drink?”
“Er—yeah.” Todd inhaled the rich aroma, sipped, and swallowed. What could he say to keep that smile on Sebby’s face? His wits failed him. All he could think about was reaching out to touch that small indentation. “Mmm.”
The grin grew; the dimple deepened. “That’s all you’ve got to say.”
Todd sipped again. “Mmmmm,” he elaborated.
Elegant eyebrows went up.
Todd considered. “Ah . . . thank you?”
Looking down from the scaffolding and scanning the site for the small figure of Sebby and his thermos at break time became habit to Todd.
“What is it with office boy always bringing you coffee?” Dean wanted to know. They were all taking a breather, sitting in a loose group high above the ground.
Todd shrugged. Sometimes the best answer was no answer at all.
“Office boy wants to suck his cock!” said one of the journeymen. There was general laughter. Todd was accustomed to this sort of talk. It was a mystery to him, but straight men seemed to find nothing more hilarious than homoerotic humor.
“He’ll just have to get in line. Behind all you homos,” Todd said. There were shouts and more laughter demonstrating that Todd had scored a point.
Todd gazed at the mountains, seeing instead Sebastián’s face and that smile. What would it be like to kiss it, the dimple? It was so small, would his lips even feel it? He imagined poking his tongue into it; that could work.
If Sebby was smiling when Todd kissed him.
“Hey, Zorro,” Sebby said as Todd reached the ground.
“Zorro?” Todd considered slashing a Z in the air, decided against it.
“Zorro is Spanish for fox.” Sebby poured a cup from his thermos and handed it to Todd. Their hands brushed.
“I didn’t know that.” Todd felt inordinately pleased by the nickname. “In French it’s renard.”
“You speak French?”
“Mais oui.” The memory pricked his heart like thumbtacks. He and Vivian had nattered on in French almost as much as they had in English. He watched while Sebby offered coffee to the others. They stood or sat in groups, drinking coffee or smoking. Todd kept a decent distance between himself and Sebby, who showed no inclination to close the gap.
“Fuck! Fucking shit, oh fuuuck!”
Curses could be heard minute by minute from anyone on the crew, but something in the tone of this one made Todd turn toward the yell. He spotted Rob, a welder about Todd’s age, holding his arm up and staring at it as if staring would stop the bleeding. Drawing a hissing breath, Todd hurried to his side.
“Shit! Fucking fuck, I caught myself on a sharp!” Blood soaked the side of Rob’s shirt and pattered on the planks.
A gray curtain dipped over Todd’s eyes, and he had to avert his eyes. “Ah . . . you need to get to the office. There’s first aid shit in there. Come on.” Todd swallowed, took hold of Rob’s good arm, and pulled, breathing through his mouth to minimize the coppery smell. Todd towed him toward the office, giving thanks that at least they were on the ground level. The earth swayed a little. Think about something, think about anything: coffee. He imagined the aroma of good, strong coffee, and the ground righted itself. They made it to the office.
Sebby applied first aid with the casual skill of someone who has seen dozens of similar injuries. “It’s not as bad as it looks, Mr. Clumsy. But you do need stitches. Todd, drive him to the hospital?”
Todd lifted his head from his knees. “Me?”
“I can’t leave the office. See, he’s patched up, no more blood, this’ll hold him for a while.” Sebby erased the number twenty-three from the board, which read: Days since last accident.
Todd tried to gather his wits. “I— All, all right.”
Sebby peered at him. “You don’t look so good. I’ll get someone else. Can’t risk you fainting behind the wheel.” He pulled out a cell phone, dialed, and spoke briefly. “Gus’ll be here in a sec. He’s an old-timer, so he’s seen plenty of worse stuff. Hey, don’t worry, Robbie.” Sebby patted Rob, who appeared petrified. “A few stitches and you’ll be fine. Todd, though, I don’t know. I think he’s traumatized. He’ll need weeks of therapy to recover.”
“Oh, thank you so much.” Todd dropped his head back to his knees.
Rob laughed, a shaky, forced laugh, but a laugh nonetheless.
Head down, Todd’s thoughts strayed to Vivian. Viv had once hurt his arm and needed a blood transfusion, and he had looked so pale and ethereal in the hospital. The realization left him shaken that now no one was likely to call him if Vivian were hurt; no one would even think to call him. No one thought of him at all.
Gus left with Rob in tow, and Sebby presented Todd with a cup of coffee. “No smelling salts, but maybe this’ll work just as well.”
Todd accepted the cup but kept his head down. “That was humiliating.”
“Ohhh, very. You’ll need even more weeks of therapy to get over the humiliation.” He commenced rubbing Todd’s bent-over back, up and down. It was soothing and somehow familiar. “Seriously, Zorro, don’t worry about it. I’ve seen burly construction workers drop at the sight of blood, and you at least walked him to the office.” He continued to rub Todd’s back.
Todd closed his eyes. It was all he could do to keep from wrapping his arms around Sebastián and pressing his face against him. Jesus God, just to hold someone, just to be held. Instead he wrapped his hands around the coffee cup. “I’m a tower of strength, I am.”
Chapter 4: Get Laid And Get Out
Up in the unfinished structure, Todd crouched over a stripped screw, trying to get it loose. A twinge in his shoulder made him wince.
“Office boy wants you.”
Startled, Todd looked up at Dean. It was several seconds before he realized the words were not a sexual reference. “Ah . . . did he say why?”
“Paperwork or something. Here, I’ll get that. We got a special head for it.”
Todd stood and stretched, working the kinks out of his shoulder. “You going back down?”
Todd was nervous at the thought of being alone again with Sebastián. “Anybody else going down?” He caught Gus looking at him. “You going down, Gus?”
“You need help with your paperwork?” Gus said. “ABCs giving you trouble?”
“No, it’s . . . Office boy scares me.” Todd tried to laugh it off.
The lines of Gus’s face settled into a frown. “I’ll go with you.”
They reached the ground, and Gus began to lecture. “You have no call to be rude to Sebby, Addison. He’s a good kid. The guys may joke about him, but they like him. He’s kind of a mascot. You treat him good or I’ll know the reason why.”
Todd swallowed hard. “No, sir. I didn’t mean—”
“There’s nothing wrong with gays. They’re good at what they do.” Gus left him at the mobile office, turned, and headed back across the site.
They’re good at what they do? Todd snorted, knocked on the door, and entered.
Sebby, seated at his desk, looked up from the computer. “Zorro!”
“You wanted me?” Todd said and then bit his tongue. Jesus, more unintended innuendo.
“Yes,” Sebby said in a businesslike tone. “Have a seat.”
Todd did so. He threw one arm over the back of the chair and crossed his ankle over the opposite knee.
“I’m worried about you, Todd.” Sebby put his fist under his chin and regarded Todd with professional concern.
“I apologize. I’d no intention of causing you worry. I assure you I’ve suffered no permanent damage from my fainting spell the other day. As long as no one bleeds in my vicinity in the near future, I shall make a full recovery.” Todd hid his nerves behind a confident smile. His instincts told him he was about to be propositioned.
“Coffee? I just made it.” The familiar thermos stood on the corner of his desk, and Sebby poured two cups. “I’m worried about where you’ll get good coffee from if something should happen to me. You can’t or won’t make your own, and you have this life-threatening coffeehouse allergy.”
“Is something going to happen to you? I’d just have to go back to the office shit.”
“No más.” Sebby shook his head. “I feel responsible for your coffee needs.”
“What do you propose, then?”
“You need to learn to make good coffee yourself. Come over to my place and I’ll teach you to French press.”
More innuendo. Todd opened his mouth and shut it again. It’s too soon, I’ve just met him, and I’m not ready to move on . . . “Okay.”
Sebby looked like he’d missed the last step of a staircase. “Okay? Really?”
“I thought you’d say no.”
“Evidently, you were wrong.”
“It took you so long to say yes to my coffee. I thought you’d play harder to get.”
Todd gave Sebby a severe look over the rims of his glasses. “Sebastián, is this why you had Dean fetch me from all the way up there on what will someday be known as the ninth floor?”
“Look, um . . .” Sebby turned away and shuffled some papers on the corner of his desk. “If I’m making you uncomfortable, I’m, um, I didn’t mean to. It’s not like sexual harassment; I mean, technically, we don’t even work together. So, you know, if you don’t want me hitting on you, nothing will happen if you turn me down. You’ll still get a paycheck and whatever.”
Todd put a shocked and hurt look on his face. “Are you hitting on me?”
Sebby regarded Todd over his shoulder.
In a wounded tone, Todd said, “I thought you were going to teach me this French press out of altruistic concern for my coffee needs.”
Sebby laughed, an unself-conscious burst of sound. “I don’t usually invite guys over.”
“I can see that you are unskilled in the art of flirting.”
“I mean, I usually get them to invite me somewhere. But you’re different, Zorro. You are stiff-necked.” He stepped behind Todd and placed his hands on Todd’s neck. His thumbs on either side of Todd’s spine pressed firmly upward.
Todd stiffened at the familiarity of it. How many times had he massaged Vivian’s neck when he’d been ill? This is what it feels like from the other side.
“You’re tight,” Sebby said. He kneaded Todd’s neck and shoulders. Todd found himself relaxing into Sebby’s hands, until the sound of feet mounting the steps of the mobile office made him tense up, and Sebby moved away.
Todd was surprised to learn that Sebastián owned a small house in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Sebby provided him with detailed directions for finding his place.
“And here’s my number, so just call me if you get lost. Maybe I should come and pick you up? That would be easier. Or you could just follow me home.” Sebby batted his lids and smiled, and God, that dimple. Politely finishing dinner before nabbing him would take self-control that Todd was not sure he had.
“I want to look my best for this coffee instruction, not arrive covered in dust and perspiration. I’ll go home and shower and change first.”
Sebby slid his hand down the length of the inside of Todd’s arm before lacing his fingers with Todd’s. He tugged, and Todd looked down at him, and Sebby looked up at Todd. Todd’s breath caught, and he leaned closer.
Sebby said, “If you decide not to show, that’s okay. I’ll understand.”
Todd blinked. “Why would I do that?”
“You best know the answer.” And Sebby let him go.
Todd went home to shower and change. He pulled into the driveway of his brother’s suburban four-bedroom home. Wiping his palms on his jeans, he made his way to the kitchen. He’d been living with his brother’s family for a couple of months now and had rarely missed an evening meal. Donna, his sister in law, stood at the stove. Lloyd was bent over, rummaging in the refrigerator.
“I won’t be here for dinner tonight. I’m going to a friend’s.”
Lloyd straightened. Donna looked up from whatever she was stirring. “Oh, you have a friend?” She sounded thrilled.
“Yeah, just someone from work, ah . . .” What was he doing? This was family and they accepted him. “It’s a . . . ah, a date.”
“That’s great!” Donna said.
“You’re dating someone from work?” Lloyd’s forehead broke into furrows. He closed the refrigerator and tossed a bag of carrots on the counter. “You sure that’s such a good idea?”
“Considering whether or not something is a good idea has never stopped me from doing anything. Having said that, I will further say that I believe it to be an excellent idea.”
Donna turned off the burner, moved the pan, and came forward, still clutching her spatula. “Why wouldn’t it be a good idea?”
Lloyd ripped open the carrot bag. “Sooner or later he’ll get outed. If he’s gonna be seeing someone on a regular basis that works where he works.”
“Is it going to be regular?” Donna asked.
“I apologize, but the hard drive on my crystal ball was downed by a vicious virus,” Todd said. “As soon as prognosticative capabilities are restored, I’ll let you know the exact duration and intensity of this particular affiliation.”
They blinked at him.
“I mean, dear people, I do not know! How can I know if it’s going to be regular?”
Lloyd shook his head and commenced chopping carrots. “It better not be. Just get laid and get out.”
The idea of treating Sebby in such a manner filled Todd with self-loathing. “That’s not how I roll.”
“‘That’s not how I roll’?” Lloyd guffawed. “Where are you getting this?”
“Look, I gotta get ready. Any other advice you’d like to offer? Of the useful variety?”
“Don’t go empty-handed.” Donna pointed her spatula at Todd. “Bring something.”
Chapter 5: Cat at a Mouse Hole
The house numbers ticked by till he came to the right one, but instead of turning in, Todd drove past the house and around the next corner and parked at the curb. He couldn’t stop thinking of Vivian, and that was hardly conducive to a successful first date. Todd gave himself a shake and sat straight up. I might as well go home. He said it was all right if I didn’t show.
Reaching to put the truck in drive, it occurred to him that Sebby had known Todd would feel this way. Todd drummed his fingers on the wheel. He thought of Sebby’s hair and how it curled at the back of the neck. He recalled Sebby taking his hand and looking up at him. He remembered Sebby’s smile and how he had almost kissed him.
Todd put the pickup into gear and drove around the block.
Sebby opened his door before Todd reached it, beaming like a flood lamp. “Toddfox! Come in, come in! Mi casa es tu casa.” He held the door and stepped aside. “You look nice.”
“Ah, thanks.” He followed Sebby through the house to the kitchen. “Mmm. Smells wonderful. Oh, here, I brought this.” Respecting Donna’s advice, Todd had stopped and bought a baguette.
“Thank you!” Sebby laid the baguette on the counter. “I want to show you my home.”
Chattering, he took Todd’s hand and led him through the house, which was filled with collectables and glassware of all colors and descriptions.