In Another Life and Eight Days
by Cardeno C.
Published December 1st 2014 by The Romance Authors, LLC
IN ANOTHER LIFE
Word Count: 18,388 2nd Edition
I flinched and then started walking toward my door, trying to keep my pace not too fast but not too slow. Nothing to see here, folks. Just a guy going for a walk. Wearing a robe and slippers. “How’ve you been?”
Making small talk in that particular situation would have been awkward no matter what. I mean, the man had blown me off and then caught me digging through his trash. Transitioning smoothly to a discussion about his well-being took more social skills than I had at my disposal that early in the morning.
But then things went from bad to worse when I reached my front step, tripped over my Scooby-Doo slippers, and grabbed on to the post in front of my house to steady myself. As it turned out, my robe wasn’t tied securely enough to withstand that kind of limb extension, which I realized when it flopped open. I jerked my head up and stared at Travis, trying to think of what I could say to salvage some portion of my dignity.
“Wow,” he said as he ground his cigarette into a bowl on the porch railing and flicked his gaze up and down my body. “You’re wearing three different cartoon characters right now, which is particularly amazing seeing as how you’re barely dressed.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” I snapped. Because apparently, my humiliation wasn’t complete enough, and I wanted to add desperate and whiny to my list of attributes, right after trash-obsessed, well-dressed, and impeccably groomed.
“I was actually doing that very thing just now.” He cleared his throat, held up his phone, and waved it at me.
“You were?” I asked, my voice cracking as I once again took in his ruggedly handsome face and felt my heart flip over.
“I wanted to call sooner.” He started walking toward me. “Usually I have weekends off because I’ve been on staff the longest, but everyone was celebrating Halloween last weekend, which meant we needed all hands on deck to deal with everything from skin rashes and oxygen deprivation in people who don’t realize spray paint and body paint aren’t the same thing, and heart attacks in men who had the wrong types of nurses in their beds.” He kept moving in my direction. “After that, I had my normal schedule, which is four twelves, but that turned into more like four eighteens because half the medical staff came down with the flu.”
He dragged his gaze from my Scooby-Doo-covered feet, up my Simpsons-covered groin to my unshaven just-woke-up face, and stopped when he was inches away from me. “Either I finally collapsed from exhaustion and right now I’m passed out in the hospital having the best dream ever or”—he grasped the sides of my robe and pulled it shut, then tied the belt more securely as he gazed into my eyes—“the cute guy I haven’t stopped thinking about just got even more adorable.”
“You think I’m cute?” I whispered as I blinked up at him.
He smiled softly. “I think you’re adorable.”
“Oh.” I scrunched up my nose and squinted. “Why?”
Travis threw his head back and laughed, and then he coughed, cleared his throat, and tried to look serious as he said, “I almost never see an adult wearing character slippers.”
“They were a present from my parents,” I said defensively. Technically, the present was a gift card, and I had chosen to spend it on slippers, but my money didn’t pay for them, so that still counted as a gift.
“Is that right?” He arched his eyebrows and crooked the side of his mouth up.
“Yes.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “For Hanukkah last year.”
“Lucky you.” He curled his lips over his teeth as if he was holding in a grin. “All I got was a new otoscope.”
“What’s an otoscope?”
“It’s something for work. I use it to look in patients’ ears. Pretty fun present, huh?” He chuckled.
“Are you a doctor?” I asked.
He looked down at the scrubs and white coat he wore; then he slowly raised his head and smirked. “Were you listening to anything I said? Or have you been too busy checking me out and having dirty thoughts?” He shook his head and smiled fondly. “Never mind, I think I like the second option better, so let’s go with that.” He cleared his throat and straightened my robe, flattening the fabric over my shoulders and chest. “In answer to your question, yes, I’m a doctor. Emergency medicine. I work at Southeast Medical Center.”
“Oh, uh,” I stammered, feeling foolish. “I didn’t think doctors smoked. But, uh, in that case, an otoscope sounds like a very, uh, practical present.”
Travis snorted. “Come visit the smoking area outside of a hospital sometime, and you’ll see one of our favorite ways to deal with stress and sleep deprivation. And, yes, my parents are really practical. When I was a kid, they used to give me socks and underwear for Hanukkah.” He paused and leered at me. “But they were always tighty-whities. Not like those super-sexy Simpsons boxers you’re wearing.”
I blushed at the reference to my embarrassing underwear, and then the rest of what he said sunk in. My jaw dropped. “You’re Jewish?”
He nodded. “Yes. Is that a problem?”
“Only if you were hoping to avoid meeting my mother, because when I tell her I’m dating a Jewish doctor, she’s going to start cooking up a storm and planning a wedding.” Once I stopped babbling, I noticed that Travis was giving me that raised-brow, crooked-grin look again.
Had I just told a man who affirmatively hadn’t asked me out that we were not only dating but also were on our way to becoming engaged? At that moment, I created a new rule for myself: no talking to anybody until after my first cup of coffee. Clearly, my uncaffeinated morning brain couldn’t be trusted.
“Uh,” I said. “I need to go or I’ll be late for work.” Then I turned on my heel and rushed to my door.
“Shiloh!” Travis called out after me.
“Yes?” I asked without turning around.
“I’ll pick you up tonight at six thirty.”
I looked back over my shoulder. “Pick me up?”
“Yes. For our date.”
“Our date?” I repeated dumbly.
“Yup.” He nodded firmly. “I think it’s important we get to know each other before the wedding, don’t you?”
“I didn’t… I mean, that’s not what I—”
“Six thirty.” He waved as he started walking back to his townhouse. “And feel free to wear those boxers.
Word Count: 18,001
“Are you sure you wanna play?” I said as I walked to his desk, picked up one of the snow globes sitting on the shelf above it, and flipped it upside down. My handwritten date on the bottom reminded me that I’d given Josh that snow globe eight years prior. It was our Hanukkah tradition—every year I’d give him a snow globe.
It had started when we were nine, and Josh saw one in a tourist trap while we were on a family vacation. He was completely enamored with the silver confetti inside, and he’d begged his father up and down for it. The thing cost less than ten bucks, but his father had resolutely refused, offering to buy Josh a football or basketball instead. Josh threw a fit, his father dragged him out of the store, and I was left there with my dad, who looked dismayed at the entire scene.
“Yeah?” he said tentatively, probably wondering if I was going to ask him to explain what had just happened between Josh and his father.
“Bubby gave me money to buy myself something on this trip, right?”
“Yes, she did.” He smiled broadly, clearly relieved at the change in conversation. “What do you want?” He looked around the store.
I snatched the snow globe Josh had been eyeing. “I want this.”
“You do?” he asked in surprise.
I nodded. “Yes. Let’s have them gift wrap it.”
My father squatted down and looked in my eyes. “Maccabe, that’s a nice gesture, but Josh’s father said he couldn’t have the snow globe, and it’s not right to interfere. You can’t buy this and give it to him.”
I frowned and thought about it. “Well, I’ll hold on to it, and I’ll give it to him for Hanukkah. Dr. Segal can’t think I’m interfering then, right? We always give presents on Hanukkah.”
My father relented, and whether Josh’s father got mad or not, I couldn’t say, because I only had eyes for Josh when, months later, he opened my gift and beamed more brightly than the menorah. I decided right then and there that if snow globes put that kind of smile on Josh’s face, I’d make sure he had plenty of them.
“We can do something else,” I said, coming back to the present. “I know you’re not crazy about video games.”
“I don’t mind them,” he said as he flopped down on the bed. “Besides, you like them, and there’s nothing else to do.”
“Sure there is.” I looked around his room. There was a chess set sitting on his dresser and a shelf running around the perimeter of the room holding all sorts of intricate Lego creations. “We could play chess.”
“You don’t know how to play chess,” he reminded me.
“True, but you can teach me.”
Josh snorted. “The last however many times we tried that you zoned out within two minutes. I can’t even get you to focus on checkers.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “Sorry, I try to pay attention, but I don’t really get the fascination. Well, we can build one of your Lego things.”
Little red circles formed on the apples of his cheeks, and he sat up and blinked quickly. “Oh, I don’t really, um…” he said, pausing midsentence, presumably remembering that I’d been in his room a couple of times a month since forever, so telling me he wasn’t into Legos anymore wouldn’t fly. It wasn’t like I didn’t know some of the buildings on the shelves were new. “You don’t want to build Legos. That’s for kids.”
“Are you joking?” I waved my hand around his room, pointing to the incredible buildings and animals he had laid out on his shelves. “You think a kid could build a replica of the Statue of Liberty? I’m older than you, and there’s no way I could do it. Come on, bring out your Legos, and show me how you make this stuff. I’ll be like your sidekick or helper or whatever.”
“Okay, okay.” Josh laughed. “It’s not like I can pass up the chance to have Maccabe Fried as my sidekick—especially since you’re so much older than me.”
“Three weeks counts as older, Freckles, deal with it.”
He flipped me off, climbed down from the bed, and folded the bedspread up, then bent down and started pulling out bins full of Legos. I froze. Josh was a really skinny guy, almost as tall as me but all bones. His baggy clothes always drowned his frame, but in his current position—on all fours, knees spread, shoulders lowered to the ground—his pants hugged his ass, and I was surprised to see that it was nicely filled out, like a round apple.
I shook my head to clear the weird thought and adjusted myself, feeling suddenly uncomfortable in my jock. My mind was distracted from my friend’s backside when I saw something slip out from between his mattress and box spring and flutter to the floor. I squatted down and picked it up.
We had gone to the San Juan Islands with the Segals for the Fourth of July the previous summer. Our parents snapped a bunch of pictures, but I had never seen that one. I was standing in front of the ocean, turned to the side, with the surf lapping at my toes. My wetsuit was stripped off my chest, hanging down, and I was holding onto my surfboard with one hand while the other was pressed against my forehead, blocking the sun from my eyes. Though it couldn’t have been more than five months old, the edges of the picture were soft and curled, like it’d been handled frequently.
Why would Josh have a picture of me stuffed under his mattress? Why would Josh be handling a picture of me that he had stuffed under his mattress? My eyes darted over to Josh, who was pulling out what had to be the last bin. He didn’t know I’d seen the picture, and I wanted to keep it that way, so I quickly shoved it back beneath the mattress and picked up one of the containers.
“I’ll just move these so we have more room,” I said, not sure if the sentence made any sense.
Of course, at that point, the sentence would have to get in line with all the other things that suddenly made no sense. Like my picture under Josh’s mattress. And the erection I sprang when I noticed his ass. I clenched my eyes shut and groaned. Dear God, had I actually checked out Josh’s ass?