Chapter Two: In the Land of the Plus One
The three-armed monstrosity in chrome and flat black hung suspended in the air, its primary function to give the illusion of illumination without sacrificing any pretense at fostering intimacy. The three sixty-watt bulbs, as per manufacturer’s specs, assured a minimal carbon footprint encased in a post-modern declaration of structure over function.
He insisted, “No, really. A mistake.”
The fixture neither agreed nor disagreed. Cole wasn’t sure if he approved of that kind of neutrality, particularly since he was tipsy enough to entertain instigating a kerfuffle just to draw attention to the fact he was indeed present at a social function and not just part of the questionable décor. So far no one, not even the sentinel shedding faint rays on his solitary form, seemed willing to breach his defenses.
The lone self-styled waiter had left the round tray with a dozen vodka stingers in paper cups on the glass-topped coffee table in front of him. Four of the cups sat drained and overturned. Cole licked his lips and placed a mental bet.
The next person who walks in that door is the one.
Just fucking one…
I only need one.
One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever…
He sighed and tipped cup number five toward his lips, his inebriation assuring that it was more an approximation than a slam dunk. Since his lips were numb, he couldn’t be certain he was hitting the mark until the sweet bite of Grey Goose and white crème de menthe had slithered down the back of his throat. No wonder they called it a stinger. Shivering from the sensation of having passed his tolerance limit for alcohol, he carefully tongued the cup dry and placed it upside down next to its cousins.
Satisfied, Cole sat against the faux leather cushion and contemplated his options.
As was usually the case when large numbers of people gathered into a relatively small space, it got too hot. So he’d rolled his flannel shirt sleeves up to the elbows. As a fashion statement, it did little to bolster his flagging ego. Every time someone wandered into his personal space, or the door opened to admit yet another group of men he neither knew nor recognized, the cool draft of air raised goosebumps. He could have solved the problem, except for one little fact … his skin periodically cringing in terror was the only action he was likely to see that night.
Under his breath, he announced he was grabbing a bite, then leaving. That was easier said than done. Rocking on his ass, he attempted lift-off three times without much success, his six-foot-three linebacker build not made for the low-slung couch and a coffee table pinning his knees in place.
“Need a hand?”
Cole looked up just enough to register a lifeline, grasped it and allowed the stranger to hoist him to a standing position. More or less. Mostly less. He sank back on the couch and mumbled, “Fuck.”
A chuckle or a snort, it was hard to tell which, preceded a bounce and a rock as whoever had offered his hand joined him on the couch. The stranger muttered, “Shit.”
Cole hesitated to turn his head to investigate, but curiosity got the better of him so he asked, “You too?”
Another chuckle, this time gravelly and deep, sent shock waves up his bare forearms. The man said, “Sorry, no. I just got here. You’re a little ahead of me.”
Letting his head rest against the back of the sofa, Cole shut his eyes to calm the vertigo. It helped just enough he was able to smile and ask, “Who’s me?” He extended his right hand, but it felt so heavy all he could do was show good intentions and let it flop on the cushion. The stranger could make of it what he wanted—shake it, fondle it, or leave it alone.
Fondling actually appealed, so he turned his hand over, enjoying the supple smoothness of the fabric against his rough palm as he petted in long, slow strokes. When he squeezed the fabric with fingers and thumb, he didn’t anticipate the rock hard resistance and the harsh intake of breath followed by a slow exhale of, “Jesus fucking Christ.”
Cole froze. The world stopped spinning as heat and mortification flooded his gut. He tried jerking his hand away but couldn’t move it. The stranger with the unlikely alias was holding his hand with a death grip in a tableau that was going to end very well for one of them if they didn’t figure out a way to extricate themselves from Cole’s faux pas.
Twisting his neck enough to look at his new best friend, Cole nearly swallowed his tongue. The vision next to him, the one with sweat beading his brow and upper lip, and green eyes glazed over in mute ecstasy—or pain, it was actually not that easy to tell the difference in Cole’s limited experience—that vision was twink bait. All Cole could think was I’m going to be arrested for sexual assault of a minor. I’m going to jail for twenty years and become Bubba’s bitch and spend the rest of my life with a stovepipe up my ass and I’ve never had anal sex and…
The twink gulped air like a floundering guppy, his Adam’s apple bobbing in a finely muscled neck encircled in a black collar. He sucked his top lip and groaned. Cole waited for the telltale rush of warm, sticky cum to coat his palm, but after a few very long minutes their dilemma resolved, the bulge less prominent though by no means fully deflated. That should have been the end of the matter. It wasn’t.
Cole was no expert on these things, but he’d spent the better part of his life on a farm so he wasn’t without practical experience on how stuff worked. That the kid was in some kind of distress was clear, and he was pretty sure it had nothing to do with age inappropriate behaviors.
Cole whispered, “Can I help?” The boy nodded imperceptibly but gave him no clue about particulars. Cole tried again. “I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s wrong.”
A tear escaped the corner of the kid’s eye. Cole followed its progress along a cheekbone sharp enough to cut paper, the base of the trail a dark smudge of mascara that would soon streak and mar the baby-smooth skin.
Sobriety galloped to the rescue, too little and too late. Cole offered, “I can call your parents,” but prayed oh God, let him be some homeless kid Anton dragged off the streets.
Jesus fucking Christ looked ready to gouge Cole’s eyes out, so he gasped, “Or an EMT?”
“Oh, hell, no!”
Ginger curls were plastered on the kid’s forehead. Given how he was forcing Cole’s hand to press on his groin area, there was the growing possibility of a ruptured appendix or perforated colon to explain the bizarre behavior.
“Are you here with anyone?” Please, God, please say yes.
“Umph.” He jutted his chin in the direction of the stereo where Drew and a man Cole didn’t know were in a tight embrace. Drew was bawling his eyes out. He asked, “You mean Drew?”
“The other one?” Christ, what had he ever done to piss off the gods of irony? The kid had snot running down his chin and dripping on Cole’s hand. When he’d thought it was going to be a handful of cum, that was bad enough. This … this was downright disgusting.
The kid mumbled, “Gabe, his name’s Gabe. Call him over. Please.”
That was easier said than done. Drew-the-jilted had the skinny guy up against the wall, dry humping his leg and wailing to beat the band. The crowd had navigated to other areas of the loft, leaving the two men in a bubble of transparent intimacy. The man called Gabe wore a resigned expression, his eyes pinioned to the ceiling.
Cole was about to scream the man’s name to get his attention, but as luck would have it he glanced in their direction, his eyebrows heading toward his hairline. Cole waved frantically with his free arm, beckoning the man to come over and rescue him … them, rescue them.
It took a few minutes before Gabe sorted his issues with Drew and left him in the care of a group making there-there sounds of sympathy while Drew assessed which leg to hump next.
Gabe stood on the other side of the coffee table, hands on hips, his face in a scowl. “Honestly, pet. That’s real leather. We’re going to need Chang’s special touch to clean up the mess you’ve made of those pants.” He made a few tsk tsk noises, then turned to Cole and said, “And you are…?”
“Um, Cole O’Neil?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?’
The kid hissed, “Gabe, shut the hell up. I’m in trouble here.”
That got Gabe’s attention. “Whoa, Jake. What kind of trouble? You want me to call the EMTs?”
Cole growled, “I suggested that already. He said no. Sort of.”
Gabe knelt in front of the kid. “You want to explain the problem, sweety, ’cause I’m only seeing the good bits here.” He stared at the two hands cupping Jake’s crotch.
Jake moaned, “It’s embarrassing.”
Gabe did an eyeroll and asked, “For who? It’s not exactly your first rodeo, Robertson.”
Cole filed away the full name, just in case the lawyer he couldn’t afford asked him who he molested when he was high on vodka shooters and in no way responsible for anything that had happened before, during or since…
He was so panicked at the thought of facing a conviction on a felony charge for being a thirty-year-old, out-of-state pervert who tended to animals and most likely engaged in bestiality when he couldn’t find nubile ginger-haired sex kittens to molest that he missed most of Jake’s explanation. He caught a few words—dick, bag, zipper, and something about if he moved the wrong way he was going to be singing soprano at St. Pat’s Cathedral.
Gabe stood, pointed to Cole and barked, “You, pick him up and follow me.”
“What … wait. What happens if I let go?” Bubba would not be pleased to learn his bitch had a history of gelding random strangers at polite social gatherings.
“Jake will scream like a little girl and pass out.”
“Fuck that, then you pick him up.”
Gabe turned sideways. “What do you see here, huh? A stiff breeze is enough to knock me over.” He pointed a skeletal finger at Cole. “You, on the other hand, look like you could bench press an SUV.”
Jake said, “Please don’t use that word … stiff.” To Cole he mumbled, “Just do it and make it quick. The bathroom’s to your left, around the corner.” Gabe nodded enthusiastically as Jake ordered him to kick out whoever was using the john. They watched him disappear around the corner. Jake said, “Okay, I’m ready,” as if he meant it.
Cole wished to hell he was ready. Getting off the couch after being immobile for so long was going to be no mean feat. Everything from the waist down was numb, his shoulder ached from the tension of keeping it in one spot for so long, and every time he moved his head, his ears buzzed.
It took two tries and a boatload of swearing, but Cole managed to pull the kid into his arms and heft him to his chest. Young Jake wrapped himself around Cole and whimpered into the notch at the base of his neck. That raised his awareness level to enhanced perv, a conflict of interest since the heft of the kid in his arms was far outweighing his natural caution against crimes and misdemeanors against minors. The thought had a poetic ring, enough so it suggested he was still heavily under the influence of the stingers.
That was Cole’s excuse and he was sticking with it.
Gabe had the toilet seat down and a towel folded in half, forming a pad of sorts, although what he intended to cushion was up for debate. Jake was gasping for air as Cole eased him down. The kid continued to claw at his flannel shirt, refusing to let go even as Cole tried to pry his fingers away. Eventually he freed himself and quickly backed toward the door.
Gabe growled, “You wait outside. Don’t let anyone in until I say it’s okay. Got it?”
Cole mumbled, “Fine,” happy his presence wasn’t required for the task ahead. He’d finally put two and two together. Somehow the kid’s penis had gotten in a tangle with a bag—whatever the hell a banana bag was, though his imagination was good enough to fill in the missing bits—and what with the leather pants being skin tight, one thing had led to another. The piece de resistance was Cole’s unwitting stroking that had set the entire cluster fuck in motion, eventually sealing the deal and putting the kid in a world of hurt.
After a few whimpers and creative swearing, there was no further indication of anything amiss. That might be good news or bad news. Cole patted his rear jeans pocket, confirming his cell phone was still there, just in case. Even though he was a vet tech, that didn’t exactly qualify him for emergi-care, especially not when he was the primary cause for the patient’s dilemma.
Gabe opened the door and whispered, “Is it all clear?”
“Um, I guess. Why?”
“Jake needs ice on his dick.” Cole cringed, not liking the sound of that. Gabe patted his arm. “It’s not really that bad. Jake’s just being a baby, is all. But I think the sooner we get him some drugs and a bag of peas, the better he’s gonna feel in the morning.”
Cole shuddered, wanting to bolt, but opted to do the right thing, so he asked, “You want me to call his parents, tell them to come get him?”
Gabe stared at Cole, wide-eyed. “What… Parents? What the hell are you talking about?” He blinked, then snorted. “You… Fuck. You think he’s…”
“Underage, yeah. So he needs to get home and have somebody look after him.”
Backing against the wall, Gabe slid down until he was crouched on his heels, his face contorted with laughter. Cole was about to shake the man until his brains fell out his ears when Gabe finally said, “Jake’s birthday is next week.”
Cole’s stomach fell. He could have gotten off free and clear if not for that one week. The courts wouldn’t care. Seventeen-coming-eighteen wasn’t the same as an eighteen-year-old consenting adult, though that consenting part was still up in the air.
It didn’t matter. Bubba was lubing up his joy stick … and Cole O’Neil was fucked six ways from Sunday.
Gabe chortled, “Twenty-five. The little twink is coming twenty-five.”
Cole slid down the wall, his two-thirty and change turning into a boneless puddle of relief. Despite that bit of good news, there was still the matter of getting Jake home. And more to the point … boy howdy, he needed to forget how good it had felt when the little ginger had snuggled into the crook of his neck, whimpering and setting up all manner of vibrations that still resonated in his chest. Other places, too, but he’d try not to think too much on that.
Cole interrupted Gabe’s chatter with, “Where’s he live? Can he get home on his own?” That shut Gabe up, his expression turning concerned.
“He shares a rat trap off 125th in Spanish Harlem.” Gabe pulled his cell phone out of a pocket, flipped it open and showed Cole the display. “This time of night he shouldn’t be trying to go home alone. I live in the Village, he can come stay with me.”
Cole grimaced. He didn’t like the idea of Jake having to travel any distance when he was clearly not a hundred percent. That invited trouble in those neighborhoods. If somebody asked him why, he wouldn’t have had a good answer, but when he spoke, there was no hesitation, and no debate allowed.
“I live two blocks away. He can sleep on the couch.” Gabe was about to argue but Cole sealed the deal with, “I’ve got medical training.” Of a sort, but Gabe didn’t need to know that. “I can take better care of him than you.”
Gabe wasn’t entirely on board but eventually he said, “All right, but give me your cell number. I want a report on his condition.”
Cole nodded and said, “Done.” They exchanged numbers and Gabe told him to remind Jake his shift started at noon the next day. Then he turned and disappeared into the thinning crowd, leaving Cole to wonder just how good a friend Gabe was. Clearly not good enough to stay and make sure the kid wasn’t being abducted into the sex slave trade.
When Cole poked his head into the bathroom, Jake was scrubbing his face clean of mascara and tears, and whatever other evidence of his mishap might remain. He looked young, but more than that he seemed about as alone and lonely as a young man could be. Cole understood that look. He saw a similar one every day of his life since he’d come to the city.
Cole asked, “Where’s your coat? You can crash at my place tonight.”
Jake protested, “I’m fine. Don’t put yourself out.”
“I’m not. I owe you.”
Confused, Jake asked, “Owe me? How do you figure that?”
Cole chuckled. He meant it to be taken with a grain of salt but somehow the truth snuck through when he said, “You’re the best date I’ve had in over a year, maybe ever.”
He could hear Bubba’s refrain… Disappointed. Well, that was too damn bad. As he took Jake’s hand, he muttered under his breath, “Fuck you, Bubba.”