Evan Chambers hesitated on the sidewalk outside the club he’d spent two hours deciding to come to. He looked down at himself, at his brown, worn-looking shoes, his dark jeans, his black T-shirt, and thought for the thousandth time that this was probably a terrible idea. He was a thirty-five-year-old school teacher who hadn’t put enough time in at the gym over the last year. He had no business doing this.
A muffled thrum turned into blaring music every time the doors swung open, the sign blinking in pink and purple neon above the doors. A small group spilled out of the front of Honcho, laughing, arms hanging around each other’s necks. They were easily a decade younger than Evan, with a couple who probably had to be carded everywhere they went. These guys all wore tight pants, and most were achingly buff, which was easy to see since a few weren’t wearing shirts.
One guy who didn’t appear old enough to be in this type of club looked over his shoulder at Evan. He scanned Evan from head to toe, then smiled before turning back to the group. But it wasn’t a hey, hottie smile or even a not bad smile. It was more of an isn’t that cute, here comes Grandpa smile.
Evan took a deep breath. He was probably imagining that, because he felt old and out-of-date. He was thirty-five, not seventy. The guy’s smile was probably just a smile. But this was a place for young men out for a good time. Not someone like Evan, who’d been settled down once, sure he was going to spend every night with the same man and go to the same job every day for the rest of his life. He’d already lived through the years when he could have come to a club like this and fit in.
He turned to walk away, when two older men holding hands, both in button-down shirts and khaki pants, both with neatly trimmed beards and buzz cuts, passed him on their way into the club. He closed his eyes. If they felt at home there, why couldn’t he? There was a drag show advertised for later that night, so all types of people would probably come. He wouldn’t seem so out of place, would he?
Evan rushed in before he could change his mind again, and flashed his driver’s license at the man inside the main entrance. Already, just in the entryway, the music was loud enough to be annoying.
He went into the main club area, and in seconds a headache started building, throbbing behind his eyes. His senses were assaulted by pounding music, flashing lights, eye-popping neon everywhere. He swore he could smell the musk of testosterone heavy on the stuffy, humid air. Going to be a four-Advil night.
Maybe a couple of drinks would help. As he made his way to the bar, the press of the crowd became as intrusive as the light and sound. There was no clear path anywhere, requiring him to bump against people, slide past them, and occasionally get pushed back as someone else made their way through with less courtesy than Evan. While he tried to maneuver his way past a throng of men who were writhing to the music, Evan’s ass was grabbed at least twice. And it wasn’t the accidental brush of a hand either time, but a firm squeeze.
When he broke free of that group and found the bar, there was nowhere to sit. He looked for a table in the seating area next to the dance floor, but didn’t see any open.
“You look lost,” a deep voice said right next to his ear.
Evan spun toward it. The man smiled at him, and Evan smiled back in relief. He seemed a little older than Evan, maybe five years or so, with a light beard and short hair, dark with specks of lighter hair that might have been gray. It was hard to tell with the flickering lights. The guy was clearly a bodybuilder, and was squeezed into a tight T-shirt and more normal-fitting jeans.
“I am. A little bit,” Evan replied.
He leaned close enough so Evan could hear him without him shouting. “Never been here before?”
“It shows.” The man laughed when he said it, but it didn’t feel like mockery. The guy held his large hand out. “I’m Mike. Are you a Bud man or would you rather have Sex on the Beach?”
Evan shook his hand, and thought later he’d be embarrassed by how long it took him to realize Mike was referring to a mixed drink. “I’m Evan. Beer, Bud, is fine. But I can—”
“I got it.” Mike held his hand up to summon a bartender, and ordered two bottles of Budweiser. “Consider it a welcome drink.”
“I—thanks.” Someone squeezing next to Evan to get to the bar on the other side nudged him, and he was pushed closer to Mike, who put a hand on his back and didn’t seem to mind.
“So, Evan. What brings you here tonight?”
Evan shrugged and moved back to where he was before he was bumped. Mike moved with him. “Just thought I’d see what it was like. Curious, mostly.”
Mike’s hand slid down his back and came to rest on his hip. He kept smiling. “Bullshit. You had something specific in mind. I can see it in your eyes.”
Evan gave a half-shrug, not sure what to say. He wasn’t wrong. This was Evan’s last gasp before settling down and probably living out the next several years, maybe all the rest of them, alone. Though he might get a cat, he supposed.
But tonight was supposed to be that wild, one-night fling he’d never had. One last sexual encounter that involved another human being, before he wrote that off for good. He was kind of embarrassed to have thought about it, and to be doing it. And Evan certainly didn’t feel comfortable telling that to a complete stranger, whose hand pressed against his hip, urging him closer.
“You lookin’ for a Daddy?” Mike’s other hand came up to Evan’s face, where he brushed his knuckles against the short stubble on his jaw. “‘Cause you’re lookin’ pretty good to me.”
He pulled Evan against him and looked down at him, licking his lips. “Call me Daddy.”
Evan put his hands up and gently pushed against Mike’s chest. “No, I’m not really—”
“Call. Me. Daddy,” he growled.
To Evan’s horror, a laugh bubbled up inside him. It burst out of him, and he knew how it probably looked, but couldn’t stop. His laugh caught Mike off-guard, and Evan’s next push freed him.
“Sorry. I’m . . . sorry.” It was too late. Evan couldn’t stop laughing. It wasn’t really because of Mike’s request—whatever turned people on was fine with him. But that he saw Evan, of all people, and decided to proposition him about it, that’s what was making it hard to get his composure back.
Mike’s frown, the dark tint to his face, prompted Evan to explain. “I’m not laughing at you,” he managed. “I’m just . . . if you knew me you’d know how—”
“Pay for your own damn beer,” Mike said, as he grabbed both bottles and stomped away. That sent Evan into another fit of laughter, and when the person next to him abandoned his stool, Evan sat there and ordered a beer of his own, occasionally chuckling at the absurdity of the situation. He probably looked like a maniac, sitting alone, drinking, laughing. At least that would keep people away from him.
Which is the exact opposite of why you came here.
He thought of Sam, and what he would think about Evan coming to a gay club in the middle of St. Louis looking for a one-night stand. Sam would tell him he didn’t have the balls to do it, and he’d be right. Evan had done it, but nothing was going to come of it. Mike had been like a bucket of ice water on his libido and made him feel even older and out-of-touch than before.
Sam hadn’t liked that about him—the conservative side. He’d wanted them to go to clubs, take part in the gay nightlife, be a little wild and crazy now and then. Evan had gone with him a few times, feeling wholly out of place. The last time Sam had tried to convince him to go into the city for a good time with him had been the night Sam had decided to suck somebody else’s cock and tell Evan about it the next afternoon, when he finally showed up.
“How can you blame me?” he’d said to Evan. “I’m so fucking bored.”
“Bored? That’s your defense?” Evan had been sitting at his kitchen table working on his lesson plans for next week when Sam had used his key and walked in. He’d been lifting his coffee cup to his mouth, and it hung there, halfway between the table and his lips.
“I told you I needed more, Evan. You never want to go where I do anymore.”
“You went. The defense for that might be that you’re bored. Fucking around with someone else . . . there’s no defense for that. Unless you’re bored by—”
“You,” Sam had blurted. “Us. The . . . spark’s not there anymore. I know you feel it, too.”
There had been so much Evan wanted to say. That there never had been a spark, not for the entire four years they’d been together, not the way he imagined it to be when other people talked about it. But he loved Sam. Sam was caring and he was there and he was safe. So what if fireworks didn’t go off every time they fucked. Sometimes it wasn’t even good. Sometimes he didn’t worry that much about Evan getting there, and it felt selfish and impersonal. But you took the good with the bad. They were comfortable, and that made Evan happy. What was wrong with that?
He didn’t say any of that, though. He’d settled for: “How much better would it have been to say that to me than to demonstrate your boredom by fucking someone else?”
Sam slapped his hands down on the kitchen counter. “Which do you really think is going to get through to you, Evan? It’s not like we haven’t talked about this before.”
“So you fuck someone else, and now you want to talk about how selfish I am?”
Sam had straightened and shook his head. “Actually, I don’t think I want to talk anymore. At all.”
A few minutes later, he realized he still held his cup halfway to his mouth, frozen there, marking the moment when his comfortable if fairly bland life ended and the unknown was about to rush in. He poured the coffee into the sink and stared out the window at his backyard, watching one squirrel chase another around and around the trunk of a tree, while he listened to Sam mumbling to himself as he went through the house, gathering up the things he kept there: some clothes, toiletries, his stupid shower radio that had once popped free of its suction cup and landed on Evan’s big toe while he had soap on his face. His toenail had been black for two weeks.
“You’re not even going to try to stop me, are you?” Sam said softly from behind him.
Evan still watched the squirrels in the backyard. “Do you want me to?”
“Would it matter?” Evan closed his eyes. He was not going to give Sam the satisfaction of seeing him cry.
“It’s been four years, Evan.”
“I know exactly how long it’s been. Four years, and you just casually go to bed with somebody else because you’re bored.”
Sam made a sound, like a sob, and Evan finally turned. Sam shook his head. “It wasn’t the first time. I’ve been trying to tell you for a while now, Evan. I needed a change, and you’ve been unwilling to change with me.”
A fist tightened around his throat, knocked his chest. “Have you been careful?” he whispered.
“Of course I have.” He took a few steps toward Evan, put the box he was carrying on the counter. “Is that really all you have to say?”
Evan finally managed to swallow. “You’ve been cheating on me for a while, and say you’re bored with me. With us. What else is there to say, Sammy? You don’t want me. Why would I try to change your mind?”
Sam’s jaw moved left, then right, and he nodded. “Right. Got it. I see how much I’ve meant to you now.”
He wanted to say that Sam had no right to be indignant, and that he’d meant everything to Evan. But now . . . there didn’t seem to be anything worth fighting for. Instead, he stood there mute with disbelief while Sam stormed out, slamming the door behind him in the way that he knew Evan hated.
After a few steadying breaths, he poured himself a fresh cup of coffee and sat back down at the table. Sam would have to come back for his pillows, more clothes than could have fit in that box, and the DVD player in the bedroom that he’d given Sam for Christmas. Maybe he should gather those things up, make the visit faster and easier?
Evan did that, robotically, scanning every room to find the things Sam had hauled there over the years. Eventually, he had two large boxes and a garbage bag of clothes and pillows sitting inside the kitchen door. He hoped they wouldn’t be there for days.
He’d made himself a sandwich and ate it, and when he used the bathroom after, he realized Sam had forgotten that stupid shower radio that had smashed his toe. He yanked it off the wall and took it into the kitchen where he shoved it into the top box. It was fine. He was fine.
He went out to pick up Chinese for dinner, got all his favorites instead of getting one thing while Sam got the spicy dishes he liked best, most of which Evan could barely tolerate. He ate too much, and it was delicious. He was fine.
He’d finished his lesson plans later that evening, and went to bed, setting the alarm for the time he wanted to get up, half an hour later than Sam liked it to go off. He was fine. He was great.
Two days later, when Sam had to sit next to him at the morning teacher’s meeting, Evan had gone to his classroom after, locked the door, and slid down it so no one could see from the hall. A fist to his mouth kept anyone from hearing, at least he thought. He was still trying to calm down when the students started arriving, a couple trying the doorknob and mumbling to each other about where Mr. Chambers could be. It had taken him until the tardy bell to get a hold of himself and unlock the door.
He’d taken another job shortly after that, substitute teaching for a different district, because he was always fine until faced with Sam. And at the job he’d loved, he was faced with Sam every day.
Evan squinted at the flashing lights coming from the stage behind the dance floor and tried to focus on the present, on what could still be changed. He guessed the drag show would start soon. Sam would probably love Honcho. Evan supposed it made Sam feel younger to pour himself into his clothes, go to a club, and find somebody to have an anonymous encounter with in a back room. That just wasn’t what Evan wanted. He didn’t know what he did want, but it wasn’t that. He supposed it wasn’t Sam that he really wanted either, though the memories were still painful.
He sighed, finished his beer, and hated Sam for a few moments, simply because it still felt good to let himself sometimes.
“Hel-lo.” A man wearing leather head-to-toe leaned on the bar next to Evan, openly looking him up and down. “Please tell me you’re alone here and your boyfriend’s not in the bathroom.” The grin beneath his mustache was a pleasant one, lots of white teeth, full lips, and for just a moment Evan thought just fucking kiss him, just do it. What would Sam do?
Then he smiled at the idea that he’d just been hating Sam, and yet he’d had a WWSD moment.
He shook his head. “Sorry, my boyfriend’s in Oklahoma.” Before the man could counter with some other come on, Evan threw a couple of dollars on the bar and made his way out of the club.
This was the life Sam had wanted, not him. Evan would have to settle for porn and his own hand if he wanted to get off tonight.
Funny thing was, he didn’t, not anymore. He wanted to get back to his hotel and get some sleep before he had to make the rest of the drive to Noss tomorrow to start a new life in his old hometown.
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