Whitley-I know you’re a transplant from New York. What attracted you to the small town of Skeenville?
Avery-I needed to get as far away from my crackpot family as I could without actually vamoosing out of the country. Skeenville had that unpretentious thing going for it. I love it here. I think this is the kind of place where I could raise a family. A normal family.
Whitley-You had an immediate attraction to Luke. What was it that drew you to him?
Avery-Well, first off, come on. I mean the guy is definitely eye candy. But he had a sadness about him that made me curious. He was guarded, but I could tell he was comfortable around me. I don’t know, we just clicked. Who knows why one person makes you hopeful for the future, and another sucks the life out of you?
Whitley-Trent cheated on you. But it sounds like you put up with a lot of stuff before you finally pulled the plug.
Avery-Trent was a charming bastard. When you couple that with the fact that I was lonely it made for a bad situation. I hung in way longer than I should have because sometimes it’s nice to have anyone rather than no one.
Whitely-But you finally broke it off?
Avery-Yeah. I wised up. Go figure.
Whitley-Were you mad at Luke for coming back into the burning building to rescue you? The Captain was pretty mad about the whole thing.
Avery-Since we made it out alive, I think I’ll forgive the guy. Hell, if it wasn’t for Luke saving my ass I’d be singing with the angels right now. And I’m a horrible singer. But, yeah, I never seen the captain that mad before.
Whitley-Luke tried to stay away from you, but he finally gave into his feelings. Do you trust him?
Avery-After all we’ve been through, hell yeah, I trust the guy with my life. And I know he feels the same. I’d say we’re soul mates, but then the guys at the station would never shut the hell up about it.~*~
Avery Syracuse is a New York transplant with the Skeenville Fire Department. He’s a little rough around the edges, but loveable. Down on his luck in the romance department, he could use some help with the bills and is looking for a roommate when new transfer, Luke Turner arrives.
Luke is one of the best firemen Avery has ever seen, and it doesn’t make sense for Luke to be wasting his time in Skeenville. The two men have an instant connection, although Luke has never been into guys before. While Avery is very attracted to Luke, he knows there is something the guy is hiding, and he’s worried that if they get involved, this secret may come around and bite him in the ass one day.
I ran a hand across my face, still woozy. “Luke, you didn’t have permission to come back for me?”
“What the hell do I care about permission? You weren’t going to make it if I didn’t get you out, Av.” His voice broke as he said my name.
“Well, of course I’m biased, since it’s my butt you saved.” I tried to smile and failed miserably.
“I don’t see what the big deal is. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Save people?” Luke looked at the captain, his expression confused. “I thought that was the entire point?”
Captain nodded. “It’s a big part of the job. But you have to follow orders. I’m sorry but I’m going to have to write you up for this.”
That reckless thing I’d seen at the bar that night seeped back into Luke’s gaze. “So I save a life and I get written up? If I’d obeyed your orders like a mindless robot, you’d probably give me a medal for good behavior, right?”
“I can’t have my guys going rogue because they feel like it,” Captain said, while jabbing his finger in Luke’s face.
“We should be able to make decisions in extreme cases like this. I knew I had enough time to get him out.”
“It doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to call the shots, kid.”
“So you’re going to write me up?”
Luke put his hands up, agitated. “You know what? Feel free. Only write me up twice, once for going in after Avery, and once for this.” He shoved his index finger in front of the Captain’s nose.
Captain’s expression morphed into fury and he batted Luke’s hand away.
“You better get your buddy under control, Syracuse.” The captain’s face colored dark with anger. “He’s a hair away from suspension.”
Luke curled his lip. “This is bullshit. Bullshit.” He started to walk away and then he swung back around. “What’s the fucking point? You know what, Captain? Just suspend my ass. Go ahead and fucking do it. Because I’m not going to stand by and watch one more person die. I’m not going to do it.” His voice was borderline hysterical, his angular cheekbones painted red.
I grabbed his arm. “Jesus, Luke. Calm the hell down.”
The Captain didn’t look as angry anymore. He seemed more concerned than anything all of a sudden. “Take it easy, son.”
“I should never have come back to the job. This is bullshit. What the fuck are we even doing here? We can’t save everybody, we fucking can’t,” he growled. “And if we try, we get written up? What a crock of shit.”
The captain made a conciliatory gesture toward Luke with his hands. “Son, this has been a stressful night. I realize this might have brought up some…stuff for you.”
“Don’t you bring that crap up right now.” He glared a warning at the captain. “Don’t you God damn dare.”
The two of them stared each other down as if they were gunslingers, and I hugged my pounding skull trying to make sense of why Luke looked ready to murder Captain. “What the fuck is going on?”
Captain sighed and raised his hands in the air in frustration. “Get your boy under control, Syracuse.” He walked away, shaking his head. The captain didn’t back down from nobody. What the hell?
Luke met my gaze, speaking in a whisper. “You know it’s bullshit, right?”
I was afraid to answer. I might set him off again, but I knew I had to say something. “The Captain doesn’t make the rules. He’s following them just like the rest of us.”
He frowned. “You’re on his side?”
I shook my head, patting my chest. “Obviously I’m glad you ignored him in this instance.”
His stare was cold and hard. “I hate this fucking job right now.”
I swallowed, but it was difficult since my throat was dry as the desert. If he hadn’t come back for me I would be dead. It was that simple. “Don’t, because you’re great at it. You saved my ass.”
“So I broke a stinking rule. So fucking what?” he asked, looking bewildered.
“I understand, but you gotta watch how you talk to the captain.”
“His attitude of follow the rules no matter what bugs the shit out of me.” He hugged his body tight, his eyes glittering.
“He’s been doing this a long time. He deserves respect.”
“It was a snap decision. I didn’t have time to argue the point with him. You’d have been gone.” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that.”
I touched his arm wanting to pull him to me and comfort him. If only I could wipe the crazy expression off his face and reassure him everything was okay. His muscles trembled under my fingers. “I know. But I’m fine.”
He rubbed his face roughly with both hands “Yeah, but if I’d have listened to Captain, you wouldn’t be.”
“Come on, relax.” I gripped his shoulders and shook him with a gentle touch. “You’re worrying me.”
“Why did I return to this dreary cesspool of a job?” he asked, looking around as if there was someone nearby with the answer.
“You love this job.”
He kept talking as if he couldn’t hear me. “Really, what’s the point? One minute you’re here and then poof, you’re not.”
I dragged Luke away from the group of guys nearby, so they couldn’t hear how irrational he sounded. “What’s going on?” He was scaring me. The only other time I’d ever seen him this out of control was when Trent had been bullying that kid in the bar. That same raw pain floated like an oil slick in his gaze tonight.
“I don’t know what I was thinking, getting involved with you.” He squinted at me as if he’d never really seen me before. “I’m seriously fucked up.” He pointed to his head.
“Are you trying to say you regret spending time with me?” Had sleeping with me been too much for him? I didn’t regret one second I’d spent with him. He was wiggling deeper and deeper into my soul every day, but was it possible he didn’t feel the same way about me?
His gaze was bright and he licked his lips. “Not, not exactly.” He closed his eyes and whispered. “God, not at all.”
“Then what is it?”
“I’m starting to feel shit for you, Av.” He opened his eyes, and clawed at his chest.
“And that’s a bad thing?”
“It is. You don’t understand. I’m like some stupid video game and if I take one more hit, I’m going to explode into a million pieces.”
“I…I’m feeling things too. You don’t see me going nuts over it.” The idea that he would pull the plug on us made me nauseous. I’d feared he’d come to his senses one day, but I hadn’t realized how much it would hurt when he did.
“I’m in way over my head with you.” He looked a little shell-shocked as he spoke. “I’m afraid to get more involved.”
“Must be nice to be able to turn it on and off.”
“I can’t seem to turn it off. That’s the problem. But I’ve got to try.” He grimaced.
“So that’s it? You’re gay experiment is concluded?” I asked keeping my voice hard and emotionless. I didn’t want him to see that he was crushing me, ripping my heart out and stomping on it. If he could actually stop being with me so easily I had obviously fooled myself into thinking I meant more to him than I did.
He chewed his lip for a moment, studying me like a scientist might examine something in a petri dish, then nodded. “Tonight gave me clarity.”
“You’re anything but clear, buddy.” My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I was light headed.
“It’s for the best.” He wouldn’t meet my gaze as he spoke.
I tried one last time to get through to him. He was slipping away from me as surely as warm blood hemorrhaged from the sliced veins of a suicide victim. “Look, I’m the one who almost bought the farm tonight. So why are you the one having the melt down?”
He gazed at me as if I must be the stupidest person on the earth. “Don’t you see, Av? It’s not the one who dies who has the problem.”
“Being dead seems like a big fucking problem to me,” I said.
“Oh no, Av,” he whispered, his eyes feverish. “It’s much worse to be the one left behind.”