Justin, now running the grooming business, has gone to lunch and Barry shows up at the same cafe. He invites himself to come look at the shop.
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Turning left toward his shop, Justin started off with a long, fast stride. Oh hell, I’m trying to stay away and ignore the damned relentless pull this guy exerts on me, and what does he do? Attaches to me with super glue! Fuck it. I can’t win for losing while he holds the lousy purse strings on me.
“Hey, buddy, where’s the fire?” So far Barry didn’t seem to be breathing hard, but he had clearly noticed Justin’s speedy pace.
“Need to get back so Melly can go to lunch. She’s got a class this afternoon. I’m not going to interfere with her education. She’s a good kid. Ambitious, starting at the college already. If she goes off to the city in the fall, I’ll be up the creek, probably on my own.”
“Oh shit, that’s a bummer. Is there enough business to keep more than one groomer busy?”
Justin had to bite his tongue on the urge to confess, “No!” He couldn’t admit that, although he was learning as fast as possible, his knowledge of the business he now owed was damn skimpy. Melly was a good teacher, though, and was showing him everything she’d learned from Cassandra and an online school. He was also plowing through his online course as fast as he could. “It’s uneven,” he said, after a few seconds. “Busy in fits and starts you could say.”
He could not turn off his awareness of the man who walked at his side. They were almost close enough to touch, to hold hands. He wanted to, really wanted to, and that made him cussing mad. This fucking awareness was going to kill him!
When they reached the shop, he turned to open the door. Melly looked up from the reception desk.
“Good, I was hoping you’d get back. A lady just called and insisted she had to speak to you. I told her you were due any minute. Here’s her number.” She handed him a sticky note.
“Thanks, Melly. You’re free to go now. Enjoy your lunch and if you need to study or anything, you don’t have to come back later.”
She gathered her things and hurried out. That left Justin alone with Barry, who was standing way too close. With the reception desk at his back, Justin could hardly ease away unobtrusively.
“I—er—I’d better return this call. It may be business.”
Barry didn’t move. Instead, he glanced at the slip of paper in Justin’s hand. “Hey, that’s my home phone. Must be Mom calling for an appointment. Want me to talk to her?”
“Why in the world would I want that? Do you want her to know you’re here with me?”
Barry laughed. “Yes and no. It might be easier just to get it out of the way if we are going to be seeing each other.”
Justin gulped. “S-s-seeing each other? What do you mean—exactly?”
“Well, like I was saying at lunch—neither of us have a lot of close buddies or even the potential for them around here. It seems natural for us to do a few things, hang out together. You know, that kind of thing. What did you think I meant?”
Justin knew he went beet red. His face felt hotter than a blast from the powerful dryer they used on the longer haired dogs. He’d really put his foot into it now. What did he think Barry had meant? Like they’d go somewhere and fuck each other’s brains out?
“Oh, forget it,” he mumbled. “I just—er—didn’t think we were really in the same social class. I mean in Phoenix, you tended to stick with the people you worked with. And I’m one who borrows money, not lends it.”
“Hey, if you don’t like golf, that’s fine. I hate it myself and only play now and then when I almost have to, with a client or one of the directors of the bank. You can talk freely out there while you smack balls around, and no one is likely to listen.”
Justin wanted to sink through the floor. He felt dumber by the second, making a real ass of himself. Barry cuffed him on the shoulder. “What are you so skittish about? Did you think I was going to do this?”
The words barely said, he grabbed Justin by both arms and slammed their bodies together. Then his face came down, not far since it seemed Justin had added a little height in the passing years. Their noses bumped, slid past, and then Barry’s mouth ground against Justin’s. It was hard and wet and hotter than hell’s fires. Justin gave a faint moan, opening his mouth to gasp for breath. Barry’s tongue slid in before he could fill his lungs with air. His heartbeat pounded in his ears while the room rocked like a major earthquake.
Finally, Barry lifted his head, just enough to speak. “You want this just as bad as I do. It would have happened that night if the fuckin’ deputy hadn’t come at just the wrong time. And it would have happened soon afterwards if you hadn’t cut and run. Why, Justin? Why did you take off?”
“No, it’s why did I come back. I figured you would be long gone, that it would be safe now. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, really, but I thought it would be okay.”
“Nowhere else…but I thought you had a great job in Phoenix.”
“Had is the operative word, past tense. There’s a recession, man, and things have been really wicked.”
Oh shit, the first cat was out of the bag now. He may as well just dump the whole load. “I knew this area was depressed, but I figured I could live cheap, maybe find a job, or start some kind of business. At first, Cassandra leaving seemed like an omen, then a godsend, but I don’t know a fucking thing about dog grooming, and chances are I’m going to end up broke on my ass and homeless to boot.”