Okay, this is my entry into Freak-of-Spade's September Challenge. The theme was rebound. For more check out her profile.
The drive to and from Randy's beach house was always peaceful, for the last half of the ride there you could always see the ocean, its waves playing over the beach. I had lost myself in some fanciful reverie or other watching them from his bedroom window or his porch often. Somehow though stuck in the middle-land called nowhere that stretched between my city and his house it was hard to do anything but lose myself in thoughts of him and…and the man whose name I didn't know, tangled in the blue sheets of his bed.
I had been locked in those sheets with him before, had been the one helping him to tangle them into sweaty ropes. I had brought him breakfast in bed while he lay on the mess we had made of them. It wasn't easy to push away the thoughts that asked how long the man had been tangling them with Randy while I was in the city.
A year as his boyfriend and I had to walk in on that before he ended it. The sad part of it was it hadn't been Randy that ended it. No, it had been the man. The man who had laughed while he told me the bed and Randy were his. Randy hadn't even said one word while I was there except to hiss out my name when he first saw me. Not that it would have mattered if he had. I hadn't been and still wasn't in the mood to hear the dickhead's explanation for what had happened.
I hit the passenger side door of my truck that I was leaning against and sighed. It would be easier to deal with if I could be home. Home locked inside my apartment watching some crappy reruns to cheer me up and a bit of good food to go with it. Instead I was stuck on the small dirt road that lead to the beach houses with the main road home ten miles away and home itself nearly twice the distance from me because my nineteen year old truck had broken down.
Randy had been telling me I should sell it for scrap and buy something newer than my brother's hand me down. He hated its age and the loud noises the engine made. I hadn't wanted to waste the money I had saved on buying a car though when all I used it for was to drive out to see him; otherwise it was locked inside of the parking garage for my apartment. I snorted to myself, a good thing I hadn't listened to him or I'd have a waste of money sitting there rather than the junk heap that had stranded me.
He had also been telling me I needed a cell phone. That I really should have listened to. I would have been able to call a tow truck. Instead I had been here for twenty minutes fighting with myself over whether or not to crawl the five miles back to his house and ask to use the phone because that was my last option other than waiting for someone to drive by. His house was the first one you came to when driving down the road.
It was all a mess of absurdity designed by fate to catch and torture me.
I banged my fist against the door again and sighed at the ocean. Someone had to drive by at some point. I wasn't going back to ask him for help, not when I was half afraid his new toy would laugh in my face and tell me to go to hell.
"Shit," I sat down and winced as I landed on a rock. "Nathan," I told myself as I pulled the rock out from beneath me. "Next time, listen to Georgette and don't date the first cute bum to come into the restaurant and compliment your cooking, neh?"
I tried throwing it out to the beach but it barely made it five feet, clacking against a larger rock before rolling to a stop at the edge of the road. I picked at the green paint flaking from the truck and watched as small pieces of it floated to the ground. Smart I told myself when a large chunk fell, make it so I not only have to have it fixed but have it repainted too. As if I would ever actually bother with the paint. That had been a sore point with Randy about my truck.
Grumbling nonsense to myself I leaned my head onto my knees and closed my eyes. I could sit in the truck and pout, but only if I wanted to die of heatstroke. For September it was hot, the temperatures still climbing to the eighties and beyond. If my truck were even starting it'd be alright, the damn thing still had the kind of air conditioner that could kick out frost if I turned it down low enough. It was one of the things I loved about the monster, it could cold down better than my apartment.
"Well, don't you look sulky and pitiful," someone laughed in front of me and I jerked up to stare at the man who had appeared sitting there. I hadn't heard him come up to me. He smiled when I met his cinnamon colored eyes. "Do you need help sweet?"
I stared for another beat before my tongue and brain caught up with the surprise. "Oh, ah, my truck is broke down. Is there any chance you have a cell phone I could use?"
He didn't answer, standing instead and offering a long hand the same shade as the coffee and cream I had drank before driving out here. "Let me take a look at it."
"I think the battery is dead," he kept his grip on my hand when I stood. I had to tilt my head back to look at him. "I don't think you can do anything about that."
He grinned again and dug the hand not holding mine into the black mess that was his hair. "Want to bet? I have jumper cables in my car."
What car? I looked around, sure it wasn't nearby or I'd have at least heard it pull up. He had parked it several feet away, an old car that was an uglier monstrosity than my truck. It looked a bit older than mine too.
It took a moment for me to realize he had released my hand, I didn't notice till I saw him getting into the car I had been staring at. It started with a barely noticeable purr and I frowned. Old it might look but the engine sounded new. He pulled closer to my truck and left only the barest breath of space between the bumpers. I felt useless as I watched him clamber out of the car and into the trunk that he unlocked. He came back out holding a small tangle of black.
"I haven't used them in a while," he held out two of the clips to me and began to try and untangle the rest. "I'm Gabe by the way."
"Nice to meet you," I watched the quick, jerking motions of his hand as they tugged out the knots. "I'm Nathan."
"Ha," the cable had come fully untangled. "Hand me those," he nodded towards the clips I held, holding his hands out to take them along with their matches that he held.
I watched as he clipped them to the batteries. I felt useless but I had never used jumper cables on my own. When the truck broke down I paid for a tow truck and a mechanic. Maybe Randy had had a good idea with the buying a newer car. I was probably putting more money into the truck than it was worth as many times as it had to be fixed.
"This looks like a pretty new battery," Gabe peered at me from beneath black bangs that had fallen into his eyes.
"It is, sort of. I had to have it replaced a month ago," that time it had died in Randy's driveway.
"A month old and it's dying on you already? Damn," he laughed and started to slide out from the small space between the cars. "Okay, I need you to get in and try starting the car after I get mine on."
I nodded my agreement and went to slide into the space he had vacated. He was still at the edge of the space though and I ended up bare inches from him. That close I could smell mint and citrus on him and I wondered for a second why he smelled that way before I hurried up and sidled on. He was staring at me when I reached the other side of my car and climbed into the driver's seat. I gagged at the instant heat wave. Without the AC the damn thing turned into an oven.
His car was barely audible within my truck and I wasn't sure if the sound I heard was actually the car or if it was just my imagination until he revved the engine. I jumped and turned the key that I had left in the ignition. Nothing. Not even a hint of its normal rumble. He revved it again and I took the hint and tried again. When I still did nothing on the fourth try I hopped out of my truck and went to his window.
"No luck," I eyed the leather seats of his car. They looked new as well. "It's gone."
He hummed and shook his head before turning his car off. "Well damn."
"So," I raised my eyebrows at him. "Any chance you have a cell phone?"
I stepped back as he stepped out. "No," he grinned at me. "Well, actually I do. It's just the damn thing throws fits whenever I leave the city," Gabe shook his head at me. "Sorry sweet."
That was the second time he had called me that. It was a bit odd hearing it from a stranger. Sweet? That was a bit odd for me to hear from anyone. Randy normally called me by my name or when he was feeling happy, honey.
"Oh," I stared out at the ocean for a second to think.
"I'd offer you a ride but I'm heading out about another fifty miles," he used one of his hands to gesture at my truck. "Judging by the way that's pointing your trying to head that way somewhere."
"Back into the city," It was looking like I'd be waiting a bit longer for someone to help me out.
"I could drive you to a house nearby and you could call for a tow truck from there," he offered.
I dug my fingers into my leg. "No, that's fine," I focused back on the beach. "Thanks."
"….You know, we can avoid whatever house it is you want to avoid," I whipped my head around to glare at him. Gabe only offered another smile.
"Just go on, I'll sit here and wait for someone else."
He met my eyes, "Sorry."
"What for?" I waved him off. "Drive safe."
I didn't sit back on the ground or slide into my car. The first had already got me called pitiful; the latter would be a death wish. Instead I climbed into the truck bed. It creaked a little but it was clean, the only thing sitting there was the spare tire and the jack I had wrapped in the cover I had only used once, when it had rained on an overnight stay with Randy.
I heard the hood to my truck slam and then his. Then the sound of his trunk. "Thanks again!" I yelled leaning around my truck before settling down, using the back window of my truck for a back rest.
The truck bed creaked I looked up me to see Gabe climbing in. I stared at him as he sat against one side of the bed and stretched out.
"What are you doing?"
"Waiting with you."
He had closed his eyes and seemed to just be enjoying what was left of the afternoon sun before it set. "I thought you were going somewhere."
"I am," he settled and arm beneath his head.
I waited but he didn't offer any more than that. "Why are you waiting with me then?"
"I was going to be early; I'm not supposed to get there until tomorrow. It's better if I get there a little later or else I'll get yelled at."
Gabe was an odd man, I decided, randomly hanging out with a stranger he met on the side of the road. I wouldn't have been anything like him. I might have stopped for a minute and if it turned out to be a problem that a jack couldn't solve professed myself inept and left. If he was going to wait with me he was volunteering to put off his own stuff to wait god knows how long until another car drove by.
The silence wasn't awkward except on my part. I hate silence. The only time I had ever allowed it was when I was cooking. Then I was able to forget about talking or being talked to, when I was in the kitchen at work or home it didn't matter. I shifted around till I sat with my back to the back window of my truck and stared at him.
The purple fabric of his t-shirt had ridden up to reveal a space of stomach, on slightly paler than his arms and hands but still with the darker hint of coffee and cream in it. He twitched while I watched him, crossing one leg over the other and then switching them around. He tugged on his shirt with the hand he wasn't leaning on and hid the bit of skin that had been peaking out.
He was completely different from Randy. Randy whose skin was sun bronzed rather than the natural soft brown of Gabe's. Randy had even bleached his hair, I had known that but I never found out his real hair color until I found pictures of him when he was little hiding in an old album his mother had sent him. Gabe's was a feathery black that I had never seen a dye able to match. Randy, like me, would never have bothered to stay; Gabe was sitting in my truck bed with me: a complete stranger.
I bit the inside of my lip and scolded myself. I needed to not think about the idiot. We were done. If I went back to work in two days acting like a sad ass little boy who got his heart broke then I'd get my ass kicked, twice. Once by the chef Georgette and then once again by my fellow sous chef Lyall just because I had pissed Georgette off. They would both be glad that Randy and I were through.
"What are you thinking about?" I jumped and focused on Gabe. He had opened his eyes and was staring at me, head tilted towards me.
"Nothing, just...Nothing," I smiled at him, it was a little forced but it would do.
"You've been staring at me for a while."
Shit. I blushed and looked over at the wrapped up tire. "Uh, yeah…I guess I sort of zoned there for a bit. Sorry."
Gabe hummed at me. I wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean. Now it was my turn to shift around as he watched me. I wrapped one hand in the bottom of my shirt, twisting it and turning it around my fist. I stretched my legs out and then tucked them beneath me. No wonder he had noticed me staring at him, it was a hard thing to ignore. Not looking back at him made it worse.
The truck bed creaked and I frowned at my hand, refusing to look up as he moved around. He stopped moving when he reached the space in front of me and he settled back down, sitting tailor style in front of me with his knees brushing my own. I looked up at him finally.
He kissed me, one of his hands grabbing onto my arm and the other arm going around my waist. He used the one around my waist to tug me forward. I was half frozen in surprise until I was pulled flat against him. Trying to shift away was useless. I was stuck between him and the truck with my hand that had been wrapped in my t-shirt locked between us. Moving it had only caused me to both of our shirts up.
After a moment Gabe slid back and met my eyes with a frown. He spoke before I could form a coherent sentence. "I was hoping you'd be interested but…" he loosened his hold and slid back from me. "I'm sorry."
I managed to tug my hand from my shirt and reached up to wrap it over his shoulders, with the other that had just been laying useless beside me I grabbed his shirt and pulled him back to me. It was stupid, touching him back when he had been willing to back off. My only excuses were that I didn't like when he frowned, didn't like it at all, but even more than that he was a better distraction than reruns and food.
Our teeth knocked together as I slammed back into him. It hurt and made me seem like some eager boy trying this for the first time but I didn't care. He pulled back still, tongue flicking out along my mouth in some sort of healing apology, as if he had done it. I was annoyed; I bit at his tongue, catching it on the edge and eliciting a yelp from him as he pulled away a bit more. I bit back a laugh and I ignored his hissed "Damn" and leaned forward to nip at his lips, gentler than I had been with his tongue.
He leaned into me again, easing me back against the rear window and the hand that had been gripping my shoulder slid away. It came back a moment later, edging up beneath my shirt, long fingers tracing a twisting path along my skin. When his mouth slipped away from mine again I decided to take my annoyance out on his neck. He didn't seem to mind when I decided to move further down or when I declared his shirt to be in my way.
I twisted the car bed cover over my hand, listening to Gabe sing behind me. "I could use a little sun on my back," he stopped and continued on humming. He had been spouting things like that randomly since we had curled up, naked, beneath the cover he had unwrapped from the tire. It was stupid and grimy but I guess neither of us felt like getting dressed. We just were laying here and hoping no one drove by and stopped to bother us.
"Dancing as the sun sets," he was somewhat tune deaf. I laughed into the cover but didn't tell him to stop. He was sweet. "We're having fun while it goes dooooowwwwwwn."
"You know," I muttered still laughing to myself. "The sun really is starting to set, and we both have some where to be."
"We do?" he sounded confused.
"You do," I corrected myself. "Me…I just," I sighed. "I need to find a way home and that's going to be harder to do the darker it gets."
He murmured what I assumed was agreement as he wrapped and arm around me and pulled me close. "I can drive you out to the main road and we can try to catch someone, see if they'll let you borrow a phone." I wonder why he hadn't suggested that before.
"Alright," I wriggled away, searching beneath the cover more clothes. I found his shirt, a sock, and his boxers before I began to worry that maybe he had thrown mine out of the truck in his haste to get me undressed.
"Looking for these," Gabe held up both his hands, my own boxers swung from one finger and he gripped my jeans in the other.
"Why do you have them?"
"They were over here," he shrugged and grabbed his clothes after I took mine.
I had to shake my self to stop from staring as he wriggled into his pants while he tried to stay down low. He was gorgeous; definitely what I had needed and maybe not for just a one night thing.
He was climbing out of the truck bed before I had finished working my pants on but he didn't go far. "You said you live in the city?" he leaned over the side, watching me.
"Yeah, do you?" I pulled my shirt on and moved onto my shoes.
He nodded. "Where…"
We both jumped as someone honked from behind Gabe's car. They could have easily gone around us since we were close to the side of the road but they apparently were feeling like being a jerk. It was a woman who stuck her head out of the window. "Why y'all just sitting there in the middle of the road?"
"Sorry, my car is broke down!" I called back.
"You need some help?"
"Do you have a cell phone I could use?"
"Sure, hold on!" she disappeared back inside her car and I looked back to Gabe .
"I guess you won't have to drive me up to the main road now," I pulled my shoes on and hopped out of the truck to stand beside him.
He was frowning. "It seems I won't," he tilted his head at me. "Before she gets over here, can…"
"Here you go!" the woman was already there, holding out a bright pink phone.
She started chattering at Gabe while I dialed the number to the nearest tow truck company from memory. "Well aren't you a sweet one, stopping to help a stranger," she cooed at him. "I wouldn't have bothered if I'd been able to get round y'all's monstrous big cars here but I'm not all that good of a driver. I was worried I'd hit y'all."
I tuned her out as someone picked up on the other end. "Hello, Miller's Towing, can we help you?" Stacy's high voice made me wince. Sad that I had to call them so often I knew her name.
"Hey, Stacy. Guess who?"
She laughed, "Oh, love, again? That old truck of yours needs to be sent to the junk yard already."
"I'm thinking about that."
"I'll send Jack out to grab you. Are you out at your boyfriend's house? Are you going to be staying out there or riding in with Jack?"
I glanced towards Gabe for a moment. He didn't seem to hear her loud voice over the chattering of the other woman. I don't know why I worried but I didn't want him finding out randomly like that. "I'm near there, Jack won't miss me, I'm stuck in the middle of the road."
"So you will be riding in with him?"
"Jackie boy will be there to get you in about thirty minutes love."
I handed the woman back her phone but it didn't cause her any pause in her chattering. It sounded like something about why she was out here at the beach. Gabe met my eyes and made a face before mouthing, "She never stops."
She didn't stop. Gabe and I were forced to sit and listen to her for the next thirty minutes. He didn't want to leave me and she was either still convinced she couldn't get around us or she was trying hard to get Gabe's number because he was the only one she talked to. I had tried saving him and sending her off but all she had done was flap a hand at me and keep talking. It was hard to believe Gabe hadn't just gone off on her yet or run away screaming.
Jack pulled up behind her and stepped out of his truck growling. "Boy," he yelled walking towards us. "Why haven't you got these damn cars out of my way?" Jack stood hands on his hips, towering over the woman who had shut up when he appeared.
"Sorry," I hadn't really thought about how he would reach my truck just about when he would get here. "Um, ma'am?" had she told us her name? "Can you please move?"
"Move your damn car," Jack snapped.
"He doesn't seem very happy," Gabe muttered in my ear. "A bad day do you think?"
"No," I grinned up at him. "He's always like that. It seems to come in handy sometimes though," I gestured to the woman scurrying away.
He laughed, "Guess so. Hey, I've been trying to ask…"
"You there," Jack snapped his fingers at Gabe. "Move yours too," he turned his glower on me. "I don't know why you got all these people out here with you. Why isn't that boy of yours here? Brandy, Randy, whatever the hell his name is?"
I bit my lip and glanced to Gabe, he looked surprised. "We broke up." And now hurt.
"Hey, Nathan, I'm just going to go. It was nice meeting you," he waved and was in his car before I could protest.
It wasn't until I was driving off with Jack that I realized two things. One was that he had been trying to get my number or address every time we'd been interrupted and two was that he never had. I deflated in my seat and tried to forget today. I wanted those reruns again.
"Georgette!" Lyall ran by where I was helping our Fish chef Alice make her Scallop and Mushroom Parmentiere. It was a busy night at Matteo's and exactly what I needed after two days of fidgeting around at home moping over Randy and Gabe. I had a fridge full of food and nothing to do with most of it, and all of it I had made in the two days. More than likely I was going to end up with a very happy and full group of neighbors. It had worked though so that I hadn't spilled everything out to Georgette when I walked in.
Georgette popped her head out from the pantry, dandelion yellow hair fluffing out from beneath her cap. "What?"
"Jorry just left, some sort of emergency. We're now short a Grill chef and we have no swing chef to fill in!" Lyall flung his hands up. "I can't fill in for Jorry because I'm already helping that moron of a pastry chef you hired!"
Georgette gave me a wide eyed look but I shook my head and nodded towards Alice. On a busy night like this someone had to help her or she freaked out and burnt things. "Why tonight?" she groaned and ran past me. "A missing swing and grill chef, a newbie without a brain and we have a critic coming! Why, why, why tonight?"
I froze and looked at Lyall. "A critic?"
"Didn't Georgette tell you?" I shook my head. "The thing about Georgette is that she's…she's a widespread kind of woman, you know?" he shook his head. "She's too frazzled tonight to think much past getting out a good meal when he gets here."
I nodded my agreement and opened my mouth to say something when smoke started to billow out from where the new pastry chef was working. I pointed mutely, mouth clicking shut. He gave me a blank look before spinning around.
"Brad! You asshole, I said to take the popovers out of the oven!" he ran off again, arms flailing. Alice giggled beside me.
"You know, I think I'll do fine on my own," she smiled. "Help Georgette out a bit. The girl's a bit frazzled tonight."
I smiled back but didn't leave till she was well under way with the next orders. I found Georgette fighting with the grill.
"You little shit," she snarled at it. "Quit stopping on me! I want to get this chicken grilled in the next few minutes and if you don't work I am going to rip you apart and sell you for scrap…"
"Georgie, love," I interrupted her rant and tried to hold back a laugh at the pitiful pouts she kept throwing at it. "Why don't you go check on something else, I can handle the grill for a bit," actually it was where I had started when I came to Matteo's before she bumped me up to sous chef. The grill was a pissy little bitch but if you had worked with it every day for a year it was easy to handle.
"Thank you!" she gave me a rapid fire run down of the orders she was working on before disappearing into some other part of the kitchen. It wasn't until an hour later that she reappeared where I was. "He's here. Shit, shit, shit, he's here."
I didn't ask who, she only freaked out over critics and politicians. "Do you want me to go back to helping Alice?"
"No, I want you to wait to see what he orders and then take over whatever goddamn station he ordered his main dish from," she started pushing her hair into a semblance of order under her hat. "Send whoever you take over from to the grill, if they can't work it send them to me and I'll work the damn thing."
I nodded. "You got it."
"I'll send Martin to you with the order."
I was grilling up one of the last orders to come for me when Martin appeared. He had the roast chef Kyle with him. "He wants Poulet Basquaise."
"No special requirements?"
"He said that to allow the chefs judgment in the rest."
The order was easy enough. I was surprised he hadn't chosen one of Georgette's specials or one of the more obscure dishes she had on the menu. Perhaps he had saved that for the other dishes. I set to work as soon as I reached the station.
Georgette was cooking some funny smelling dish, probably one of her own creations. She liked to work on them when she was nervous. The critic's food had all been served to him and he was supposed to be working on eating whatever the dessert he had ordered was. The rest of us were still working, though not in as much of a rush as before. Matteo's was emptying out, the dinner reservation rush ending.
"So," Alice raised her eyebrows at me. "How did we do tonight?"
"Great," Lyall bounced back on the balls of his feet. He stood a few feet from Georgette, waiting for her to tell him what to do but his eyes were focused on where the new pastry chef worked, "Except for Brad trying to burn us down that is."
"I did not try to burn anything down!"
I rolled my eyes and went back to the pork loin roast that I was making. Alice was shaking around a bowl of scallops while she stood near me.
"Shouldn't you be cooking those?"
"They need a few minutes more in the marinade."
Martin stuck his head in. "Georgie, he wants to come back and talk to you."
Her head jerked up from the veal she was working on. "What, what?"
"He wants to come back here!"
Her mouth silently for a moment while the few of us that were nearby stared. "Send him in."
Alice scurried back to her station and Lyall bounced around looking as though he had no idea what to do. I bowed my head over the roast and tried to watch out of the corner of my eye. I gave that up as soon as the critic walked in. Gabe.
He didn't notice me at all in the beginning. His eyes were focused on Georgette who had stepped forward to greet him, setting Lyall to watch her food.
"Chef Georgette?" he offered a hand to her. "I'm Gabe Marshall. I just wanted to give my compliments to you all on having made a great meal." A sigh seemed to go through most of the kitchen. We'd have a very happy Head Chef tomorrow.
"Thank you very much," she smiled. "You should be giving your compliments to the chef who did most of the cooking though," oh shit. "Nathan?"
I saw him start and then he looked around until he found me. All we did was stare at each other until he broke the silence. "I…You work here?"
"Yes," I nodded. The others in the kitchen stared, some leaning around the equipment to see us.
"Oh ah…I should…"
"You know I….Jack didn't know then but….Randy and I are through," Georgette made a cheering motion from behind Gabe. "You never let me explain."
"Well, I thought…" he stopped. "Nevermind. That's good, I guess," he smiled at me. "That you don't have a boyfriend.
We shut up, him smiling and me blushing because everyone was still watching. Georgette caught my attention with a wave and mouthed something at me.
In three steps I cleared the space between him and me and pulled his head down to mine. Lips smashed together, I knotted a hand in his hair and squeezed his hip with the other. He slid his tongue past my lips, arms going around me. I pressed forward against him, paying attention to nothing but the feel of him until it unbalanced us and we fell back onto one of the counters. Something warm and greasy spilled and spread beneath us.
"My basil butter sauce!" Georgette shrieked. She shooed us apart but I couldn't be annoyed with her for separating us when we would have gladly continued butter and all. She was the one who had got me to kiss him.
She had asked me what the hell I was waiting for. Although she might have encouraged me to kiss him just to secure a good review.
Yeah, I was supposed to have a wtf kiss but I think I failed.